Though the activated microglia/macrophages (M?) are known to contribute to secondary brain injury after stroke, M? are also instrumental in the repair process. To explain such contrasting roles, two M? phenotypes, harmful/M1 and healing/M2, have been proposed. Importantly, the M1 M? can be polarized to M2 and vice versa. While various molecules derived from stroke-injured cells have the propensity to polarize M? toward M1 type (causing the generation of pro-inflammatory cytokines and pro-oxidants), other molecules (e.g. generated by T cells), such as IL-4, IL10 or TGF, polarize M? toward the M2 type. The M2 M? control the cleanup processes (phagocytosis- mediated removal of toxic and pro-inflammatory cellular debris), and the production of trophic factors. Thus, the source of toxicity and the biological and physical barriers hampering neural reorganization are removed, while providing trophic support governing neuronal sprouting (the repair process). Without the M2 M?, healing would not be possible. While both M1 and M2 M? phenotypes co-exist shortly after stroke, M2 phenotype weakens within 2-3 days allowing M1 type to dominate. This adversely affects the brain cleanup, repair, and recovery, while boosting cytotoxicity. Exploring the mechanisms underlying such processes and therapeutic approaches aiming at rectifying the M2 polarization loss are the subjects of this proposal. Our novel findings indicate that in response to ischemia, neurons synthesize and release IL-4 (canonical M2 polarizing cytokine) during the first 3 days of stroke, followed by a decline in both IL-4 and M2 M? levels. IL-4-induced M2 M? polarization requires the activation of RXR-PPAR? pathway. The administration of IL-4 or agonists of PPAR? and RXR (rectifying factors) for 5 days, starting at 1d post stroke, improves recovery and neuronal re-wiring. Loss of PPAR? in M? impedes recovery.
Aim 1. Elucidate, in vitro, the role of neurons in M? polarization and post stroke repair: IL-4- medaited PPAR?:RXR-executed process involving phagocytosis (cleanup) and trophic stimulation. Hypothesis: Neurons act as sensors of injury and generate IL-4/IL13 that signals to microglia to induce M2 polarization, while suppressing M1 phenotype associated with cytotoxicity.
Aim 2. Elucidate, in vivo, the basis of IL-4 signaling to PPAR?:RXR, and apply them into clinically relevant approaches targeting the phagocyte-mediated brain cleanup, remodeling, and post- stroke recovery. Hypothesis: Because the initial polarization toward the healing M? phenotype after stroke, driven by neuronal production of IL4/IL13, is lost within few days after stroke, approaches aiming at restoring IL-4-medaited signaling, such as via recombinant IL-4 and PPAR?:RXR activation (molecular targets of IL-4 in M?), to rectify M2 polarization loss will assist in post stroke recovery.

Public Health Relevance

Stroke is the number one cause of adult disability in the United States with tissue plasminogen activator being the one approved therapy for acute ischemic stroke - but only 5% of patients receive it nationally, given the narrow therapeutic window. Growing body of evidence suggests that improvement of post/semi-acute stroke recovery may represent the next target for an effective treatment. We propose (and study in this application) that the optimization of cytotoxic, cleanup and repair properties of microglia/macrophages (M? cells normally involved in scavenging and microbicidal activities) after stroke is an important and clinically relevant target that could provide benefits when delivered to stroke patients at the sub-acute stages.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Brain Injury and Neurovascular Pathologies Study Section (BINP)
Program Officer
Bosetti, Francesca
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Texas Health Science Center Houston
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Zhao, Xiurong; Zhang, Liyan; Ting, Shun-Ming et al. (2016) Phagocytosis Assay of Microglia for Dead Neurons in Primary Rat Brain Cell Cultures. Bio Protoc 6:
Zhao, Xiu-Rong; Gonzales, Nicole; Aronowski, Jaroslaw (2015) Pleiotropic role of PPAR? in intracerebral hemorrhage: an intricate system involving Nrf2, RXR, and NF-?B. CNS Neurosci Ther 21:357-66
Zhao, Xiurong; Wang, Huan; Sun, Guanghua et al. (2015) Neuronal Interleukin-4 as a Modulator of Microglial Pathways and Ischemic Brain Damage. J Neurosci 35:11281-91