Microglial numbers attain adult levels after undergoing a rapid decrease in cell number in the third postnatal week

J Neuroimmunol. 2015 Jan 15:278:280-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jneuroim.2014.11.018. Epub 2014 Nov 24.


During postnatal development, microglia, CNS resident innate immune cells, are essential for synaptic pruning, neuronal apoptosis and remodeling. During this period microglia undergo morphological and phenotypic transformations; however, little is known about how microglial number and density is regulated during postnatal CNS development. We found that after an initial increase during the first 14 postnatal days, microglial numbers in mouse brain began declining in the third postnatal week and were reduced by 50% by 6weeks of age; these "adult" levels were maintained until at least 9months of age. Microglial CD11b levels increased, whereas CD45 and ER-MP58 declined between P10 and adulthood, consistent with a maturing microglial phenotype. Our data indicate that both increased microglial apoptosis and a decreased proliferative capacity contribute to the developmental reduction in microglial numbers. We found no correlation between developmental reductions in microglial numbers and brain mRNA levels of Cd200, Cx3Cl1, M-Csf or Il-34. We tested the ability of M-Csf-overexpression, a key growth factor promoting microglial proliferation and survival, to prevent microglial loss in the third postnatal week. Mice overexpressing M-Csf in astrocytes had higher numbers of microglia at all ages tested. However, the developmental decline in microglial numbers still occurred, suggesting that chronically elevated M-CSF is unable to overcome the developmental decrease in microglial numbers. Whereas the identity of the factor(s) regulating microglial number and density during development remains to be determined, it is likely that microglia respond to a "maturation" signal since the reduction in microglial numbers coincides with CNS maturation.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Development; Flow cytometry; Gene expression; M-CSF; Proliferation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • CD11b Antigen / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Microglia / physiology*


  • CD11b Antigen
  • Cytokines