An updated assessment of microglia depletion: current concepts and future directions

Mol Brain. 2017 Jun 19;10(1):25. doi: 10.1186/s13041-017-0307-x.


Microglia are the principal resident immune cells in the central nervous system and are believed to be versatile players in both inflammatory and physiological contexts. On the one hand, in order to safeguard the microenvironment microglia can be rapidly activated by contact with microbial products or cell debris, thereby exerting the functions of innate immunity via phagocytosis and secretion of cytokines and chemokines. Conversely, microglia can also assist in brain development, synaptic plasticity and neural repair through the production of neurotrophic factors and clearance of myelin debris. It is now well accepted that the dysfunction of microglia and microglia-induced neuroinflammation are implicated in the occurrence and progression of many neurological diseases. Although the past decade has witnessed major progress in understanding of multi-tasking microglia, what remains largely enigmatic is the relative importance of microglia at different disease stages and how microglia should be targeted for optimal therapeutic efficacy. Notably, microglia depletion through genetic targeting or pharmacological therapies can be viewed as effective tools to stimulate new microglia to repopulate the central nervous system. Microglia depletion and subsequent repopulation at defined stages in various experimental animal model disorders allow us to extend our knowledge of molecular mechanisms, thus holding promise for designing strategies to resolve neuroinflammation and promote recovery. Herein we highlight the highly plastic and diverse phenotypes of microglia and outline the lessons learned from microglia depletion approaches.

Keywords: Depletion; Microglia; Neuroinflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genetic Techniques
  • Humans
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Myeloid Cells / metabolism
  • Yolk Sac / cytology