Microglia and Beyond: Innate Immune Cells As Regulators of Brain Development and Behavioral Function

Front Immunol. 2018 Apr 13:9:698. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00698. eCollection 2018.


Innate immune cells play a well-documented role in the etiology and disease course of many brain-based conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, and brain cancers. In contrast, it is only recently becoming clear that innate immune cells, primarily brain resident macrophages called microglia, are also key regulators of brain development. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge regarding microglia in brain development, with particular emphasis on how microglia during development are distinct from microglia later in life. We also summarize the effects of early life perturbations on microglia function in the developing brain, the role that biological sex plays in microglia function, and the potential role that microglia may play in developmental brain disorders. Finally, given how new the field of developmental neuroimmunology is, we highlight what has yet to be learned about how innate immune cells shape the development of brain and behavior.

Keywords: behavior; brain development; early life stress; inflammation; microglia; neurodevelopmental disorders; sex differences; synaptic pruning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Mental Disorders / immunology
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics