Microglia are resident macrophages of the CNS that are involved in its development, homeostasis and response to infection and damage. Microglial activation is a common feature of neurological disorders, and although in some instances this activation can be damaging, protective and regenerative functions of microglia have been revealed. The most prominent example of the regenerative functions is a role for microglia in supporting regeneration of myelin after injury, a process that is critical for axonal health and relevant to numerous disorders in which loss of myelin integrity is a prevalent feature, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer disease and motor neuron disease. Although drugs that are intended to promote remyelination are entering clinical trials, the mechanisms by which remyelination is controlled and how microglia are involved are not completely understood. In this Review, we discuss work that has identified novel regulators of microglial activation - including molecular drivers, population heterogeneity and turnover - that might influence their pro-remyelination capacity. We also discuss therapeutic targeting of microglia as a potential approach to promoting remyelination.