Microglia: unique and common features with other tissue macrophages

Acta Neuropathol. 2014 Sep;128(3):319-31. doi: 10.1007/s00401-014-1267-1. Epub 2014 Mar 21.


Microglia are highly specialized tissue macrophages of the brain with dedicated functions in neuronal development, homeostasis and recovery from pathology Despite their unique localization in the central nervous system (CNS), microglia are ontogenetically and functionally related to their peripheral counterparts of the mononuclear phagocytic system in the body, namely tissue macrophages and circulating myeloid cells. Recent developments provided new insights into the myeloid system in the body with microglia emerging as intriguing unique archetypes. Similar to other tissue macrophages, microglia develop early during embryogenesis from immature yolk sac progenitors. But in contrast to most of their tissue relatives microglia persist throughout the entire life of the organism without any significant input from circulating blood cells due to their longevity and their capacity of self-renewal. Notably, microglia share some features with short-lived blood monocytes to limit CNS tissue damage in pathologies, but only bone marrow-derived cells display the ability to become permanently integrated in the parenchyma. This emphasizes the therapeutic potential of bone marrow-derived microglia-like cells. Further understanding of both fate and function of microglia during CNS pathologies and considering their uniqueness among other tissue macrophages will be pivotal for potential manipulation of immune cell function in the CNS, thereby reducing disease burden. Here, we discuss new aspects of myeloid cell biology in general with special emphasis on the brain-resident macrophages and microglia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / cytology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Neurogenesis / physiology