The nervous system comprises a remarkably diverse and complex network of different cell types, which must communicate with one another with speed, reliability, and precision. Thus, the developmental patterning and maintenance of these cell populations and their connections with one another pose a rather formidable task. Emerging data implicate microglia, the resident myeloid-derived cells of the central nervous system (CNS), in the spatial patterning and synaptic wiring throughout the healthy, developing, and adult CNS. Importantly, new tools to specifically manipulate microglia function have revealed that these cellular functions translate, on a systems level, to effects on overall behavior. In this review, we give a historical perspective of work to identify microglia function in the healthy CNS and highlight exciting new work in the field that has identified roles for these cells in CNS development, maintenance, and plasticity.
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