Development of the microglial phenotype in culture

M. Szabo, K. Gulya

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Selected morphological, molecular and functional aspects of various microglial cell populations were characterized in cell cultures established from the forebrains of E18 rat embryos. The mixed primary cortical cultures were maintained for up to 28. days using routine culturing techniques when the microglial cells in the culture were not stimulated or immunologically challenged. During culturing, expansion of the microglial cell populations was observed, as evidenced by quantitative assessment of selected monocyte/macrophage/microglial cell-specific markers (human leukocyte antigen (HLA) DP, DQ, DR, CD11b/c and Iba1) via immunocyto- and histochemistry and Western blot analysis. The Iba1 immunoreactivity in Western blots steadily increased about 750-fold, and the number of Iba1-immunoreactive cells rose at least 67-fold between one day in vitro (DIV1) and DIV28. Morphometric analysis on binary (digital) silhouettes of the microglia revealed their evolving morphology during culturing. Microglial cells were mainly ameboid in the early stages of in vitro differentiation, while mixed populations of ameboid and ramified cell morphologies were characteristic of older cultures as the average transformation index (TI) increased from 1.96 (DIV1) to 15.17 (DIV28). Multiple immunofluorescence labeling of selected biomarkers revealed different microglial phenotypes during culturing. For example, while HLA DP, DQ, DR immunoreactivity was present exclusively in ameboid microglia (TI < 3) between DIV1 and DIV10, CD11b/c- and Iba1-positive microglial cells were moderately (TI < 13) and progressively (TI < 81) more ramified, respectively, and always present throughout culturing. Regardless of the age of the cultures, proliferating microglia were Ki67-positive and characterized by low TI values (TI < 3). The microglial function was assessed by an in vitro phagocytosis assay. Unstimulated microglia with low TI values were significantly more active in phagocytosing fluorescent microspheres than the ramified forms. In vitro studies on microglial population dynamics combined with phenotypic characterization can be of importance when different in vivo pathophysiological situations are modeled in vitro.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-295
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Jun 5 2013



  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Microglia
  • Phagocytosis
  • Primary culture
  • Transformation index
  • Western blotting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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