Microglial physiology: unique stimuli, specialized responses

Annu Rev Immunol. 2009:27:119-45. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.021908.132528.


Microglia, the macrophages of the central nervous system parenchyma, have in the normal healthy brain a distinct phenotype induced by molecules expressed on or secreted by adjacent neurons and astrocytes, and this phenotype is maintained in part by virtue of the blood-brain barrier's exclusion of serum components. Microglia are continually active, their processes palpating and surveying their local microenvironment. The microglia rapidly change their phenotype in response to any disturbance of nervous system homeostasis and are commonly referred to as activated on the basis of the changes in their morphology or expression of cell surface antigens. A wealth of data now demonstrate that the microglia have very diverse effector functions, in line with macrophage populations in other organs. The term activated microglia needs to be qualified to reflect the distinct and very different states of activation-associated effector functions in different disease states. Manipulating the effector functions of microglia has the potential to modify the outcome of diverse neurological diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / immunology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Neurotransmitter Agents