Effects of the ecto-ATPase apyrase on microglial ramification and surveillance reflect cell depolarization, not ATP depletion


Microglia, the brain's innate immune cells, have highly motile processes which constantly survey the brain to detect infection, remove dying cells, and prune synapses during brain development. ATP released by tissue damage is known to attract microglial processes, but it is controversial whether an ambient level of ATP is needed to promote constant microglial surveillance in the normal brain. Applying the ATPase apyrase, an enzyme which hydrolyzes ATP and ADP, reduces microglial process ramification and surveillance, suggesting that ambient ATP/ADP maintains microglial surveillance. However, attempting to raise the level of ATP/ADP by blocking the endogenous ecto-ATPase (termed NTPDase1/CD39), which also hydrolyzes ATP/ADP, does not affect the cells' ramification or surveillance, nor their membrane currents, which respond to even small rises of extracellular [ATP] or [ADP] with the activation of K+ channels. This indicates a lack of detectable ambient ATP/ADP and ecto-ATPase activity, contradicting the results with apyrase. We resolve this contradiction by demonstrating that contamination of commercially available apyrase by a high K+ concentration reduces ramification and surveillance by depolarizing microglia. Exposure to the same K+ concentration (without apyrase added) reduced ramification and surveillance as with apyrase. Dialysis of apyrase to remove K+ retained its ATP-hydrolyzing activity but abolished the microglial depolarization and decrease of ramification produced by the undialyzed enzyme. Thus, applying apyrase affects microglia by an action independent of ATP, and no ambient purinergic signaling is required to maintain microglial ramification and surveillance. These results also have implications for hundreds of prior studies that employed apyrase to hydrolyze ATP/ADP.

Journal details

Volume 115
Issue number 7
Pages E1608-E1617
Available online
Publication date