Differential immunochemical markers reveal the normal distribution of brain macrophages and microglia in the developing rat brain

J Comp Neurol. 1991 Dec 1;314(1):125-35. doi: 10.1002/cne.903140112.


Brain macrophages and microglia play important roles in central nervous system (CNS) development, especially during regressive events in which particular neuronal and glial constituents are eliminated. The purpose of this study is to provide a complete map of brain macrophage and microglia distribution in all regions of the neuraxis from birth to sexual maturity. We have utilized morphology and immunostaining with the specific antibodies OX-42 and ED1 to distinguish between brain macrophages and microglia. Brain macrophages are large, round cells, 10-15 microns in diameter, with few or no cytoplasmic processes; these cells are ED1- and OX-42-immunopositive. Microglia have small cell bodies with numerous, ramified cytoplasmic processes. These cells are OX-42-positive, and ED1-negative. We found a specific pattern of distribution of brain macrophages, targeting specific cortical and subcortical areas transiently, including developing fiber tracts. These cells disappeared completely by the third postnatal week. In contrast, OX-42-positive microglia exhibited a gradual increase in number and were distributed uniformly throughout gray matter and within white matter tracts. These cells remain in the adult CNS, constituting the resident microglia population. We suggest that these two distinct phagocytic cell populations perform unique functions in the developing brain, including remodeling of restricted CNS areas by brain macrophages that is part of a normal morphological process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Macrophages / cytology*
  • Neuroglia / cytology*
  • Rats


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal