Microglia and brain macrophages in the molecular age: from origin to neuropsychiatric disease

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2014 May;15(5):300-12. doi: 10.1038/nrn3722. Epub 2014 Apr 9.


Mononuclear phagocytic cells in the CNS used to be defined according to their anatomical location and surface marker expression. Recently, this concept has been challenged by the results of developmental and gene expression profiling studies that have used novel molecular biological tools to unravel the origin of microglia and to define their role as specialized tissue macrophages with long lifespans. Here, we describe how these results have redefined microglia and helped us to understand how different myeloid cell populations operate in the CNS based on their cell-specific gene expression signatures, distinct ontogeny and differential functions. Moreover, we describe the vulnerability of microglia to dysfunction and propose that myelomonocytic cells might be used in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders that are characterized by primary or secondary 'microgliopathy'.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / pathology*
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / complications
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology*