Early microglial colonization of the human forebrain and possible involvement in periventricular white-matter injury of preterm infants

J Anat. 2010 Oct;217(4):436-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2010.01245.x.


Amoeboid microglial subpopulations visualized by antibodies against ionized calcium-binding adapter molecule 1, CD68, and CD45 enter the forebrain starting at 4.5 postovulatory or gestational weeks (gw). They penetrate the telencephalon and diencephalon via the meninges, choroid plexus, and ventricular zone. Early colonization by amoeboid microglia-macrophages is first restricted to the white matter, where these cells migrate and accumulate in patches at the junctions of white-matter pathways, such as the three junctions that the internal capsule makes with the thalamocortical projection, external capsule and cerebral peduncle, respectively. In the cerebral cortex anlage, migration is mainly radial and tangential towards the immature white matter, subplate layer, and cortical plate, whereas pial cells populate the prospective layer I. A second wave of microglial cells penetrates the brain via the vascular route at about 12-13 gw and remains confined to the white matter. Two main findings deserve emphasis. First, microglia accumulate at 10-12 gw at the cortical plate-subplate junction, where the first synapses are detected. Second, microglia accumulate in restricted laminar bands, most notably around 19-30 gw, at the axonal crossroads in the white matter (semiovale centre) rostrally, extending caudally in the immature white matter to the visual radiations. This accumulation of proliferating microglia is located at the site of white-matter injury in premature neonates. The spatiotemporal organization of microglia in the immature white and grey matter suggests that these cells may play active roles in developmental processes such as axonal guidance, synaptogenesis, and neurodevelopmental apoptosis as well as in injuries to the developing brain, in particular in the periventricular white-matter injury of preterm infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Antigens, CD34 / metabolism
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic / metabolism
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Diencephalon / cytology*
  • Diencephalon / embryology*
  • Diencephalon / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / metabolism
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Telencephalon / cytology*
  • Telencephalon / embryology*
  • Telencephalon / metabolism


  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, CD34
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic
  • CD68 antigen, human
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens
  • PTPRC protein, human