Quantitative immunohistochemical analysis of myeloid cell marker expression in human cortex captures microglia heterogeneity with anatomical context

Sci Rep. 2020 Jul 16;10(1):11693. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-68086-z.


Current immunohistochemical methods of studying microglia in the post-mortem human brain do not capture the heterogeneity of microglial function in response to damage and disease. We therefore investigated the expression of eight myeloid cell proteins associated with changes in function alongside Iba1. To study the myeloid cells we used immunohistochemistry on post-mortem human middle temporal gyrus sections from neurologically normal individuals. First we investigated co-labelling between the classical 'activation' marker, HLA-DR and each of the other markers of interest. Significant co-labelling between HLA-DR with CD206, CD32, CD163, or L-Ferritin was observed, although complete overlap of expression of HLA-DR with aforementioned markers was not observed. A qualitative assessment also demonstrated that perivascular macrophages expressed higher levels of the markers of interest we investigated than microglia, suggesting perivascular macrophages show a more phagocytic and antigen presentation state in the human brain. To determine whether the markers of interest were expressed in different functional states, the immunoreactivity for each marker was qualitatively assessed on microglial morphologies. Degenerating marker, L-Ferritin, was specific for dystrophic microglia. We demonstrate that microglial heterogeneity can be investigated in immunohistochemically stain post-mortem human tissue by integrating the single-cell abundance of proteins and cell morphology to infer function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic / metabolism
  • Apoferritins / metabolism
  • Autopsy
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique / methods*
  • HLA-DR Antigens / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Myeloid Cells / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, IgG / metabolism
  • Receptors, Immunologic / metabolism
  • Temporal Lobe / metabolism*


  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic
  • Biomarkers
  • CD163 antigen
  • FCGR2B protein, human
  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • MRC1 protein, human
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, IgG
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Apoferritins