PublicationsMicroglia-specific knock-down of Bmal1 improves memory and protects mice from high fat diet-induced obesity
Microglia play a critical role in maintaining neural function. While microglial activity follows a circadian rhythm, it is not clear how this intrinsic clock relates to their function, especially in stimulated conditions such as in the control of systemic energy homeostasis or memory formation. In this study, we found that microglia-specific knock-down of the core clock gene, Bmal1, resulted in increased microglial phagocytosis in mice subjected to high-fat diet (HFD)-induced metabolic stress and likewise among mice engaged in critical cognitive processes. Enhanced microglial phagocytosis was associated with significant retention of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-immunoreactivity in the mediobasal hypothalamus in mice on a HFD as well as the formation of mature spines in the hippocampus during the learning process. This response ultimately protected mice from HFD-induced obesity and resulted in improved performance on memory tests. We conclude that loss of the rigorous control implemented by the intrinsic clock machinery increases the extent to which microglial phagocytosis can be triggered by neighboring neurons under metabolic stress or during memory formation. Taken together, microglial responses associated with loss of Bmal1 serve to ensure a healthier microenvironment for neighboring neurons in the setting of an adaptive response. Thus, microglial Bmal1 may be an important therapeutic target for metabolic and cognitive disorders with relevance to psychiatric disease.