New tools for studying microglia in the mouse and human CNS

Mariko L. Bennett, F. Chris Bennett, Shane A. Liddelow, Bahareh Ajami, Jennifer L. Zamanian, Nathaniel B. Fernhoff, Sara B. Mulinyawe, Christopher J. Bohlen, Aykezar Adil, Andrew Tucker, Irving L. Weissman, Edward F. Chang, Gordon Li, Gerald A. Grant, Melanie G. Hayden Gephart, Ben A. Barres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1080 Scopus citations


The specific function of microglia, the tissue resident macrophages of the brain and spinal cord, has been difficult to ascertain because of a lack of tools to distinguish microglia from other immune cells, thereby limiting specific immunostaining, purification, and manipulation. Because of their unique developmental origins and predicted functions, the distinction of microglia from other myeloid cells is critically important for understanding brain development and disease; better toolswould greatly facilitate studies ofmicroglia function in the developing, adult, and injured CNS. Here, we identify transmembrane protein 119 (Tmem119), a cell-surface protein of unknown function, as a highly expressed microglia-specific marker in both mouse and human. We developed monoclonal antibodies to its intracellular and extracellular domains that enable the immunostaining of microglia in histological sections in healthy and diseased brains, as well as isolation of pure nonactivated microglia by FACS. Using our antibodies, we provide, to our knowledge, the first RNAseq profiles of highly pure mouse microglia during development and after an immune challenge. We used these to demonstrate that mouse microglia mature by the second postnatal week and to predict novel microglial functions. Together, we anticipate these resources will be valuable for the future study and understanding of microglia in health and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1738-E1746
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 22 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Developmental neuroscience
  • Glia
  • Macrophage
  • Microglia
  • RNAseq

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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