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Brain Res Bull. 1994;34(1):73-8.

Cellular forms and functions of brain microglia.

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Department of Biology, Howard University, Washington, DC 20059.


Consistent with the recent characterization of microglial cells as macrophages, an overall picture for the unique function of these cells in CNS tissue has developed. The microglia are derived from blood monocytes that migrate into the tissue during fetal development and subsequently remain after complete formation of the blood-brain barrier. These monocytes give rise to the ramified microglia of adult tissue through the developmental intermediate of amoeboid microglia. Ramified microglia appear uniquely adapted in contrast to other tissue macrophages based on their stability or lack of turnover and mitotic capability. The ramified cells, while usually downregulated, can convert into active macrophages termed reactive microglia; this conversion appears to occur nonspecifically in response to any injury. Further, reactive microglial cells can fuse to form giant multinucleated cells during viral infections. Each microglia cell form possesses a characteristic morphology and differing functional state with regard to macrophage activity. In their role as tissue macrophages, microglia are involved in immune responses, tissue transplantation, and AIDS dementia complex, as well as many other neurological mechanisms and diseases.

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