Isolating, culturing, and polarizing primary human adult and fetal microglia

Methods Mol Biol. 2013;1041:199-211. doi: 10.1007/978-1-62703-520-0_19.


Microglia are an important component of the innate immune system within the central nervous system (CNS). Isolation and in vitro culturing of microglia can provide insight towards the basic biology of these cells as well as their interactions with neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. While studies of rodent microglia and microglial cell lines have provided a basis for our understanding of these cells, human adult microglia exhibit distinct properties when compared to rodent cells. Furthermore, the study of human fetal microglia provides a window into the developing CNS. This chapter describes the protocols used to isolate, purify, and culture both human adult and fetal microglia. Under basal culture conditions, human microglia survive for extended periods in the absence of growth factors, thus allowing their properties to be investigated under resting conditions. In addition, both human adult and fetal microglia can be used to study how they respond to different polarization conditions. As is the case with macrophages, it is also possible to polarize microglia towards the pro-inflammatory "M1" and the anti-inflammatory "M2" phenotypes, as described in this chapter.

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Cell Culture Techniques*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fetus / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Microglia / cytology*
  • Myeloid Cells / cytology