After brain stroke microglia/macrophages (M/M) undergo rapid activation with dramatic morphological and phenotypic changes that include expression of novel surface antigens and production of mediators that build up and maintain the inflammatory response. Emerging evidence indicates that M/M are highly plastic cells that can assume classic pro-inflammatory (M1) or alternative anti-inflammatory (M2) activation after acute brain injury. However a complete characterization of M/M phenotype marker expression, their colocalization and temporal evolution in the injured brain is still missing. Immunofluorescence protocols specifically staining relevant markers of M/M activation can be performed in the ischemic brain. Here we present immunofluorescence-based protocols followed by three-dimensional confocal analysis as a powerful approach to investigate the pattern of localization and co-expression of M/M phenotype markers such as CD11b, CD68, Ym1, in mouse model of focal ischemia induced by permanent occlusion of the middle cerebral artery (pMCAO). Two-dimensional analysis of the stained area reveals that each marker is associated to a defined M/M morphology and has a given localization in the ischemic lesion. Patterns of M/M phenotype marker co-expression can be assessed by three-dimensional confocal imaging in the ischemic area. Images can be acquired over a defined volume (10 μm z-axis and a 0.23 μm step size, corresponding to a 180 x 135 x 10 μm volume) with a sequential scanning mode to minimize bleed-through effects and avoid wavelength overlapping. Images are then processed to obtain three-dimensional renderings by means of Imaris software. Solid view of three dimensional renderings allows the definition of marker expression in clusters of cells. We show that M/M have the ability to differentiate towards a multitude of phenotypes, depending on the location in the lesion site and time after injury.
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