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Chronic neurodegenerative diseases, such as prion diseases or Alzheimer's disease, are associated with progressive accumulation of host proteins which misfold and aggregate. Neurodegeneration is restricted to specific neuronal populations which show clear accumulation of misfolded proteins, whilst neighbouring neurons remain unaffected. Such data raise interesting questions about the vulnerability of specific neuronal populations to neurodegeneration and much research has concentrated only on the mechanisms of neurodegeneration in afflicted neuronal populations. An alternative, undervalued and almost completely unstudied question however is how and why neuronal populations are resilient to neurodegeneration. One potential answer is unaffected regions do not accumulate misfolded proteins, thus mechanisms of neurodegeneration do not become activated. In this perspectives, we discuss novel data from our laboratories which demonstrate that misfolded proteins do accumulate in regions of the brain which do not show evidence of neurodegeneration and further evidence that microglial responses may define the severity of neurodegeneration.
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