Using focused ultrasound to modulate microglial structure and function

Sarina Grewal, Elisa Gonçalves de Andrade, Rikke Hahn Kofoed, Paul M Matthews, Isabelle Aubert, Marie-Ève Tremblay, Sophie Morse

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperReviewResearchpeer-review


Transcranial focused ultrasound (FUS) has the unique ability to target regions of the brain with high spatial precision, in a minimally invasive manner. Neuromodulation studies have shown that FUS can excite or inhibit neuronal activity, demonstrating its tremendous potential to improve the outcome of neurological diseases. Recent evidence has also shed light on the emerging promise that FUS has, with and without the use of intravenously injected microbubbles, in modulating the blood-brain barrier and the immune cells of the brain. As the resident immune cells of the central nervous system, microglia are at the forefront of the brain’s maintenance and immune defense. Notably, microglia are highly dynamic and continuously survey the brain parenchyma by extending and retracting their processes. This surveillance activity aids microglia in performing key physiological functions required for brain activity and plasticity. In response to stressors, microglia rapidly alter their cellular and molecular profile to help facilitate a return to homeostasis. While the underlying mechanisms by which both FUS and FUS + microbubbles modify microglial structure and function remain largely unknown, several studies in adult mice have reported changes in the expression of the microglia/macrophage marker ionized calcium binding adaptor molecule 1, and in their phagocytosis, notably of protein aggregates, such as amyloid beta. In this review, we discuss the demonstrated and putative biological effects of FUS and FUS + microbubbles in modulating microglial activities, with an emphasis on the key cellular and molecular changes observed in vitro and in vivo across models of brain health and disease. Understanding how this innovative technology can modulate microglia paves the way for future therapeutic strategies aimed to promote beneficial physiological microglial roles, and prevent or treat maladaptive responses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1290628
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • blood-brain barrier
  • focused ultrasound
  • functional effects
  • glia
  • microglia
  • modulation
  • neurodegeneration


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