“What we observed, which was surprising, is that not only do astrocytes and microglia compete for phagocytic territories, but even amongst microglia [they compete]. If there is a dead cell in the middle and 3 different microglia interested in the cell, but only 1 will interact with the dead cell.”
A recent study conducted by Eyiyemisi Damisah, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery, Yale School of Medicine, and colleagues, used photochemical and viral methodologies to induce death in single cells and observe the process with precise spatiotemporal resolution. All told, they attempted to better understand the role players in the removal process of cell death.

In an interview with NeurologyLive, Damisah explained what she and colleagues observed from these role players: microglia and astrocytes. Some of their observations were the first such conducted in a live mammalian brain, and the insight they gathered is the first step in better understanding a process that may have huge effects on aging and neurodegeneration.

She and colleagues saw astrocytes and microglia engaging with dying neurons in an orchestrated and synchronized fashion, with each glial cell operating in a specialize role. The astrocytes rapidly polarized and engulfed numerous small dendritic apoptotic bodies, while microglia migrated and engulfed the soma and apical dendrites.
Damisah EC, Hill RA, Rai A, et al. Astrocytes and microglia play orchestrated roles and respect phagocytic territories during neuronal corpse removal in vivo. Science Advances. 2020;6(26):eaba3239. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aba3239.