Microglia Regulate Pruning of Specialized Synapses in the Auditory Brainstem

Giedre Milinkeviciute, Caden M. Henningfield, Michael A. Muniak, Sima M. Chokr, Kim N. Green, Karina S. Cramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The assembly of uniquely organized sound localization circuits in the brainstem requires precise developmental mechanisms. Glial cells have been shown to shape synaptic connections in the retinogeniculate system during development, but their contributions to specialized auditory synapses have not been identified. Here we investigated the role of microglia in auditory brainstem circuit assembly, focusing on the formation and pruning of the calyx of Held in the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB). Microglia were pharmacologically depleted in mice early in development using subcutaneous injections of an inhibitor of colony stimulating factor 1 receptor, which is essential for microglia survival. Brainstems were examined prior to and just after hearing onset, at postnatal days (P) 8 and P13, respectively. We found that at P13 there were significantly more polyinnervated MNTB neurons when microglia were depleted, consistent with a defect in pruning. Expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a mature astrocyte marker that normally appears in the MNTB late in development, was significantly decreased in microglia-depleted mice at P13, suggesting a delay in astrocyte maturation. Our results demonstrate that monoinnervation of MNTB neurons by the calyx of Held is significantly disrupted or delayed in the absence of microglia. This finding may reflect a direct role for microglia in synaptic pruning. A secondary role for microglia may be in the maturation of astrocytes in MNTB. These findings highlight the significant function of glia in pruning during calyx of Held development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number55
JournalFrontiers in Neural Circuits
StatePublished - Aug 28 2019


  • CSF1R inhibitors
  • MNTB
  • auditory brainstem
  • calyx of Held
  • depletion
  • microglia
  • pruning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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