Pattern of invasion of the embryonic mouse spinal cord by microglial cells at the time of the onset of functional neuronal networks

Glia. 2011 Apr;59(4):675-95. doi: 10.1002/glia.21140. Epub 2011 Feb 8.


Microglial cells invade the central nervous system during embryonic development, but their developmental functional roles in vivo remain largely unknown. Accordingly, their invasion pattern during early embryonic development is still poorly understood. To address this issue, we analyzed the initial developmental pattern of microglial cell invasion in the spinal cord of CX3CR1-eGFP mouse embryos using immunohistochemistry. Microglial cells began to invade the mouse embryonic spinal cord at a developmental period corresponding to the onset of spontaneous electrical activity and of synaptogenesis. Microglial cells reached the spinal cord through the peripheral vasculature and began to invade the parenchyma at 11.5 days of embryonic age (E11.5). Remarkably, at E12.5, activated microglial cells aggregated in the dorsolateral region close to terminals of dying dorsal root ganglia neurons. At E13.5, microglial cells in the ventral marginal zone interacted with radial glial cells, whereas ramified microglial cells within the parenchyma interacted with growing capillaries. At this age, activated microglial cells (Mac-2 staining) also accumulated within the lateral motor columns at the onset of the developmental cell death of motoneurons. This cell aggregation was still observed at E14.5, but microglial cells no longer expressed Mac-2. At E15.5, microglial cells were randomly distributed within the parenchyma. Our results provide the essential basis for further studies on the role of microglial cells in the early development of spinal cord neuronal networks in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia / cytology
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / embryology*
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / embryology*
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism