Role for neuronally derived fractalkine in mediating interactions between neurons and CX3CR1-expressing microglia.
A recently identified chemokine, fractalkine, is a member of the chemokine gene family, which consists principally of secreted, proinflammatory molecules. Fractalkine is distinguished structurally by the presence of a CX3C motif as well as transmembrane spanning and mucin-like domains and shows atypical constitutive expression in a number of nonhematopoietic tissues, including brain. We undertook an extensive characterization of this chemokine and its receptor CX3CR1 in the brain to gain insights into use of chemokine-dependent systems in the central nervous system. Expression of fractalkine in rat brain was found to be widespread and localized principally to neurons. Recombinant rat CX3CR1, as expressed in Chinese hamster ovary cells, specifically bound fractalkine and signaled in the presence of either membrane-anchored or soluble forms of fractalkine protein. Fractalkine stimulated chemotaxis and elevated intracellular calcium levels of microglia; these responses were blocked by anti-CX3CR1 antibodies. After facial motor nerve axotomy, dramatic changes in the levels of CX3CR1 and fractalkine in the facial nucleus were evident. These included increases in the number and perineuronal location of CX3CR1-expressing microglia, decreased levels of motor neuron-expressed fractalkine mRNA, and an alteration in the forms of fractalkine protein expressed. These data describe mechanisms of cellular communication between neurons and microglia, involving fractalkine and CX3CR1, which occur in both normal and pathological states of the central nervous system.