The role of microglia in central nervous system (CNS) pathology has been studied extensively, and more recently, examination of microglia in the healthy brain has yielded important insights into their many functions. It was long assumed that microglia were essentially quiescent cells, unless provoked into activation, which was considered a hallmark of disease. More recently, however, it has become increasingly clear that they are extraordinarily dynamic cells, constantly sampling their environment and adjusting to exquisitely delicate stimuli. Along these lines, our laboratory has identified a new and unexpected role for microglial phagocytosis - or lack thereof - in the pathophysiology of Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disease caused by mutation of the gene encoding methyl-CpG binding protein (MECP)2. We have shown that specific expression of wild type Mecp2 in myeloid cells of Mecp2-null mice is sufficient to arrest major symptoms associated with this devastating disease. This beneficial effect, however, is abolished if phagocytic activity of microglia is inhibited. Here, we discuss microglial origins, the role of microglia in brain development and maintenance, and the phenomenon of microglial augmentation by myeloid progenitor cells in the adult brain. Finally, we address in some detail the beneficial roles of microglia as clinical targets in Rett syndrome and other neurological disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-150
Number of pages7
JournalTrends in Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


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