A polarizing question: do M1 and M2 microglia exist?

Nat Neurosci. 2016 Jul 26;19(8):987-91. doi: 10.1038/nn.4338.


Microglial research has entered a fertile, dynamic phase characterized by novel technologies including two-photon imaging, whole-genome transcriptomic and epigenomic analysis with complementary bioinformatics, unbiased proteomics, cytometry by time of flight (CyTOF; Fluidigm) cytometry, and complex high-content experimental models including slice culture and zebrafish. Against this vivid background of newly emerging data, investigators will encounter in the microglial research literature a body of published work using the terminology of macrophage polarization, most commonly into the M1 and M2 phenotypes. It is the assertion of this opinion piece that microglial polarization has not been established by research findings. Rather, the adoption of this schema was undertaken in an attempt to simplify data interpretation at a time when the ontogeny and functional significance of microglia had not yet been characterized. Now, terminology suggesting established meaningful pathways of microglial polarization hinders rather than aids research progress and should be discarded.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Polarity / drug effects
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Phenotype


  • Cytokines
  • Lipopolysaccharides