Targeted Complement Inhibition at Synapses Prevents Microglial Synaptic Engulfment and Synapse Loss in Demyelinating Disease

Sebastian Werneburg, Jonathan Jung, Rejani B. Kunjamma, Seung Kwon Ha, Nicholas J. Luciano, Cory M. Willis, Guangping Gao, Natalia P. Biscola, Leif A. Havton, Stephen J. Crocker, Brian Popko, Daniel S. Reich, Dorothy P. Schafer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating, autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. While work has focused on myelin and axon loss in MS, less is known about mechanisms underlying synaptic changes. Using postmortem human MS tissue, a preclinical nonhuman primate model of MS, and two rodent models of demyelinating disease, we investigated synapse changes in the visual system. Similar to other neurodegenerative diseases, microglial synaptic engulfment and profound synapse loss were observed. In mice, synapse loss occurred independently of local demyelination and neuronal degeneration but coincided with gliosis and increased complement component C3, but not C1q, at synapses. Viral overexpression of the complement inhibitor Crry at C3-bound synapses decreased microglial engulfment of synapses and protected visual function. These results indicate that microglia eliminate synapses through the alternative complement cascade in demyelinating disease and identify a strategy to prevent synapse loss that may be broadly applicable to other neurodegenerative diseases. Video Abstract: The mechanisms underlying synaptic changes in multiple sclerosis (MS) remain unclear. Werneburg et al. identify microglia-mediated synapse engulfment and synapse loss in MS patients and multiple MS-relevant animal models. Synapse loss can occur early and prior to other MS-relevant pathology and is associated with synapse-localized complement C3. An AAV approach to inhibit C3 protects synapses and preserves circuit function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-182.e7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 14 2020


  • complement
  • demyelination
  • engulfment
  • gene therapy
  • microglia
  • multiple sclerosis
  • neural-immune
  • neurodegeneration
  • neuroinflammation
  • synapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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