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Lumbar spinal cord microglia exhibited increased activation in aging dogs compared with young adult dogs.

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Altered microglia function contributes to loss of CNS homeostasis during aging in the brain. Few studies have evaluated age-related alterations in spinal cord microglia. We previously demonstrated that lumbar spinal cord microglial expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) was equivalent between aging, neurologically normal dogs and dogs with canine degenerative myelopathy (Toedebusch et al. 2018, Mol Cell Neurosci. 88, 148-157). This unexpected finding suggested that microglia in aging spinal cord have a pro-inflammatory polarization. In this study, we reexamined our microglial results (Toedebusch et al. 2018, Mol Cell Neurosci. 88, 148-157) within the context of aging rather than disease by comparing microglia in aging versus young adult dogs. For both aging and young adult dogs, the density of microglia was significantly higher closest to the motor neuron cell body. However, there was no difference in densities between aging versus young adult dogs at all distances except for the furthest distance analyzed. The number of motor neurons with polarized microglia was higher in aging dogs; yet, the density per motor neuron of arginase-1-expressing microglia was reduced in aging dogs compared with young adult dogs. Finally, aging dogs had increased steady-state mRNA levels for genes consistent with activated microglia compared with young adult dogs. However, altered mRNA levels were limited to the lumbar spinal cord. These data suggested that aging dog spinal cord microglia exhibit regional immunophenotypic differences, which may render lumbar motor neurons more susceptible to age-related pathological insults.

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