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J Neuroinflammation. 2012 Jun 28;9:147. doi: 10.1186/1742-2094-9-147.

Efficient isolation of live microglia with preserved phenotypes from adult mouse brain.

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Department of Comparative Biosciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.



Microglial activation plays a key role in the neuroinflammation associated with virtually all CNS disorders, although their role in normal CNS physiology is becoming increasingly appreciated. Neuroinflammation is often assessed by analyzing pro-inflammatory mediators in CNS tissue homogenates, under the assumption that microglia are the main source of these molecules. However, other cell types in the CNS can also synthesize inflammatory molecules. Hence, to enable direct analysis of microglial activities ex vivo, an efficient, reliable, and reproducible method of microglial isolation is needed.


After enzymatic digestion of brain tissues and myelin removal, CD11b⁺ cells were isolated using immunomagnetic separation, yielding highly purified microglia without astrocyte or neuronal contamination. We used three methods of myelin removal (30% Percoll, 0.9  mol/l sucrose and anti-myelin magnetic beads), and compared their effects on microglial viability and yield. To determine whether the isolation procedure itself activates microglia, we used flow cytometry to examine microglial properties in brain-tissue homogenates and isolated microglia from control and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) -treated mice.


This method yielded a highly purified CD11b⁺ cell population with properties that reflected their in vivo phenotype. The viability and yield of isolated cells were significantly affected by the myelin removal method. Although the microglial phenotype was comparable in all methods used, the highest viability and number of CD11b⁺ cells was obtained with Percoll. Microglia isolated from LPS-treated mice displayed a pro-inflammatory phenotype as determined by upregulated levels of TNF-α, whereas microglia isolated from control mice did not.


Immunomagnetic separation is an efficient method to isolate microglia from the CNS, and is equally suitable for isolating quiescent and activated microglia. This technique allows evaluation of microglial activities ex vivo, which accurately reflects their activities in vivo. Microglia obtained by this method can be used for multiple downstream applications including qRT-PCR, ELISA, Western blotting, and flow cytometry to analyze microglial activities in any number of CNS pathologies or injuries.

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