Electrophysiological behavior of microglia

Glia. 1993 Jan;7(1):93-101. doi: 10.1002/glia.440070115.


The present knowledge of voltage- and ligand-activated ion channels of cultured microglial cells is described and its relevance is discussed. All microglial cells cultured from rat or mouse brain express an inward rectifying K+ channel but no outward currents. This expression is not changed by the length of the cultivation period, nor is it different in freshly isolated cells. It makes the microglial cells distinct from peritoneal macrophages, which possess an outward rectifying K+ channel. In bone marrow, 2 populations of cells could be distinguished electrophysiologically, one with the channel pattern of macrophages and one with that of microglial cells. This finding is interesting in light of the fact that it is presently hypothesized that the differentiation of monocytes into microglia takes place exclusively during embryonic development but not in the adult. The available data thus support the hypothesis that within the bone marrow a population of macrophage precursor cells exists with a possible lineage relationship to brain macrophages. The lack of outward currents in the microglial cells has the functional consequence that even a small inward current leads to a large membrane depolarization, since K+ outward currents are not activated with the depolarization. The microglial cell is thus very sensitive to depolarizing events. We found that ATP induced an inward current and an increase in the conductance, whereas ADP, AMP, and adenosine did not. These relative potencies indicate that microglia possess a P2 purinoceptor linked to an ion channel. The amplitude of the inward current elicited by ATP is about 80 pA and is sufficient to depolarize microglial cells close to 0 mV.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Electrophysiology
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Ion Channels
  • Adenosine Triphosphate