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BACKGROUND: Progression of Alzheimer's disease is thought initially to depend on rising amyloidβ and its synaptic interactions. Transgenic mice (TASTPM; APPSwe/PSEN1M146V) show altered synaptic transmission, compatible with increased physiological function of amyloidβ, before plaques are detected. Recently, the importance of microglia has become apparent in the human disease. Similarly, TASTPM show a close association of plaque load with upregulated microglial genes. METHODS: CA1 synaptic transmission and plasticity were investigated using in vitro electrophysiology. Microglial relationship to plaques was examined with immunohistochemistry. Behaviour was assessed with a forced-alternation T-maze, open field, light/dark box and elevated plus maze. FINDINGS: The most striking finding is the increase in microglial numbers in TASTPM, which, like synaptic changes, begins before plaques are detected. Further increases and a reactive phenotype occur later, concurrent with development of larger plaques. Long-term potentiation is initially enhanced at pre-plaque stages but decrements with the initial appearance of plaques. Finally, despite altered plasticity, TASTPM have little cognitive deficit, even with a heavy plaque load, although they show altered non-cognitive behaviours. INTERPRETATION: The pre-plaque synaptic changes and microglial proliferation are presumably related to low, non-toxic amyloidβ levels in the general neuropil and not directly associated with plaques. However, as plaques grow, microglia proliferate further, clustering around plaques and becoming phagocytic. Like in humans, even when plaque load is heavy, without development of neurofibrillary tangles and neurodegeneration, these alterations do not result in cognitive deficits. Behaviours are seen that could be consistent with pre-diagnosis changes in the human condition. FUNDING: GlaxoSmithKline; BBSRC; UCL; ARUK; MRC.

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Alzheimer's disease, Dementia, Microglia, Mouse model, Neurodegeneration, Plaque, Synaptic transmission