Forum Scientiarum

Immune Cells in the Ageing Brain

Microglia are the primary immune cells of the brain, and originate from uncommitted stem cells in the yolk sac. Once progenitors have populated the brain, the blood brain barrier forms and segregates microglia from periphery.

Microglia do not only contribute to clearance of cellular debris, but also play a crucial role in brain homeostasis, through pruning of synapses (connections between brain cells) and as illustrated through disease-causing genetic mutations in microglial genes. In addition, microglial function is believed to decline with age and thus may contribute to the deterioration of brain function and the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Recent genetic studies have linked the majority of genetic Alzheimer’s disease risk factors to genes that are associated with microglia. Interestingly, Alzheimer’s disease has a long preclinical silent phase, and it is hypothesized that microglia play a decisive role in this early phase of the disease.

This talk will describe how we can gain a better understanding of microglial function by utilizing induced pluripotent stem cells to generate different types of brain cells, such as microglia, neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes, which, when brought together, resemble “mini-brains in a dish”. Through the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells from Alzheimer’s disease patients and healthy controls we can build cellular models that allow us to gain novel insights of the cellular interplay and development of Alzheimer’s disease.


Deborah Kronenberg-Versteeg is a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research at University Hospital Tübingen. She is interested to discover what role immune cells in the brain (microglia) play during ageing and in disease.

Deborah Kronenberg-Versteeg started to work on microglia as a Junior Research Fellow of Homerton College Cambridge and postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Trust – Medical Research Council Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge (UK).

Deborah holds a BSc in Molecular Medicine from the Georg August University in Göttingen, Germany. With a graduate scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) she went to pursue an MSc in Clinical Epidemiology at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. After completing her MSc she moved to London on a MPhil/PhD studentship from the National Institute for Health Research to gain a PhD in Immunobiology from King’s College London.