Inflammatory responses play a multifaceted role in regulating both disability and recovery after ischemic brain injury. In the acute phase of ischemic stroke, resident microglia elicit rapid inflammatory responses by the ischemic milieu. After disruption of the blood-brain barrier, peripheral-derived neutrophils and mononuclear phagocytes infiltrate into the ischemic brain. These infiltrating myeloid cells are activated by the endogenous alarming molecules released from dying brain cells. Inflammation after ischemic stroke thus typically consists of sterile inflammation triggered by innate immunity, which exacerbates the pathologies of ischemic stroke and worsens neurological prognosis. Infiltrating immune cells sustain the post-ischemic inflammation for several days; after this period, however, these cells take on a repairing function, phagocytosing inflammatory mediators and cellular debris. This time-specific polarization of immune cells in the ischemic brain is a potential novel therapeutic target. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of the phase-dependent role of innate myeloid cells in ischemic stroke and discuss the cellular and molecular mechanisms of their inflammatory or repairing polarization from a therapeutic perspective.
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