Caspase blockade induces RIP3-mediated programmed necrosis in Toll-like receptor-activated microglia. Academic Article uri icon


  • Microglia are the resident immune cells in the central nervous system and key players against pathogens and injury. However, persistent microglial activation often exacerbates pathological damage and has been implicated in many neurological diseases. Despite their pivotal physiological and pathophysiological roles, how the survival and death of activated microglia is regulated remains poorly understood. We report here that microglia activated through Toll-like receptors (TLRs) undergo RIP1/RIP3-dependent programmed necrosis (necroptosis) when exposed to the pan caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk. Although zVAD-fmk and the caspase-8 inhibitor IETD-fmk had no effect on unstimulated primary microglia, they markedly sensitized microglia to TLR1/2,3,4,7/8 ligands or TNF treatment, triggering programmed necrosis that was completely blocked by R1P1 kinase inhibitor necrostatin-1. Interestingly, necroptosis induced by TLR ligands and zVAD was restricted to microglial cells and was not observed in astrocytes, neurons or oligodendrocytes even though they are known to express certain TLRs. Deletion of genes encoding TNF or TNFR1 failed to prevent lipopolysaccharide- and poly(I:C)-induced microglial necroptosis, unveiling a TNF-independent programmed necrosis pathway in TLR3- and TLR4-activated microglia. Microglia from mice lacking functional TRIF were fully protected against TLR3/4 activation and zVAD-fmk-induced necrosis, and genetic deletion of rip3 also prevented microglia necroptosis. Activation of c-jun N-terminal kinase and generation of specific reactive oxygen species were downstream signaling events required for microglial cell death execution. Taken together, this study reveals a robust RIP3-dependent necroptosis signaling pathway in TLR-activated microglia upon caspase blockade and suggests that TLR signaling and programmed cell death pathways are closely linked in microglia, which could contribute to neuropathology and neuroinflammation when dysregulated.

published proceedings

  • Cell Death Dis

author list (cited authors)

  • Kim, S. J., & Li, J.

citation count

  • 112

complete list of authors

  • Kim, SJ||Li, Jianrong

publication date

  • July 2013