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Spatial and temporal heterogeneity of mouse and human microglia at single-cell resolution

An Author Correction to this article was published on 27 March 2019

This article has been updated


Microglia have critical roles not only in neural development and homeostasis, but also in neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases of the central nervous system1,2,3,4. These highly diverse and specialized functions may be executed by subsets of microglia that already exist in situ, or by specific subsets of microglia that develop from a homogeneous pool of cells on demand. However, little is known about the presence of spatially and temporally restricted subclasses of microglia in the central nervous system during development or disease. Here we combine massively parallel single-cell analysis, single-molecule fluorescence in situ hybridization, advanced immunohistochemistry and computational modelling to comprehensively characterize subclasses of microglia in multiple regions of the central nervous system during development and disease. Single-cell analysis of tissues of the central nervous system during homeostasis in mice revealed specific time- and region-dependent subtypes of microglia. Demyelinating and neurodegenerative diseases evoked context-dependent subtypes of microglia with distinct molecular hallmarks and diverse cellular kinetics. Corresponding clusters of microglia were also identified in healthy human brains, and the brains of patients with multiple sclerosis. Our data provide insights into the endogenous immune system of the central nervous system during development, homeostasis and disease, and may also provide new targets for the treatment of neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory pathologies.

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Fig. 1: Identification of spatiotemporal subclasses of microglia in the mouse.
Fig. 2: Characteristics of subsets of microglia during development.
Fig. 3: Specific disease-associated populations of microglia with distinct kinetics during demyelination and neurodegeneration.
Fig. 4: Presence of distinct subclasses of microglia in brains of healthy humans and patients with multiple sclerosis.

Data availability

Raw data for mouse and human single cell RNA-sequencing have been deposited in the Gene Expression Omnibus, and are available at the following accession numbers: GSE120629 (mouse), GSE120747 (mouse) and GSE124335 (human). All other data are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Change history

  • 27 March 2019

    In this Letter, Dominic Grün and Sagar have been added to the author list (affiliated with Max-Planck-Institute of Immunology and Epigenetics (MPI-IE), Freiburg, Germany). The author list, ‘Author contribution’ and ‘Acknowledgements’ sections have been corrected online. See accompanying Amendment.


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We thank M. Ditter, E. Barleon, T. el Gaz and J. Bodinek-Wersing for technical assistance; C. Gross for proofreading; N. Mossadegh for helpful discussions; and A. Zeisel and S. Linnarsson (Karolinska Institute, Sweden) for sharing data and support. The samples and data used for this project were kindly provided by the West German Biobank. T.M. was supported by the KANAE Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. M.P. is supported by the Sobek Foundation, the Ernst-Jung Foundation, the DFG (SFB 992, SFB1160, SFB/TRR167, Reinhart Koselleck Grant), the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts, Baden-Wuerttemberg (Sonderlinie ‘Neuroinflammation’) and the BMBF-funded competence network of multiple sclerosis (KKNMS). This study was supported by the DFG under Germany’s Excellence Strategy (CIBSS – EXC-2189 – Project ID390939984). S. is supported by the DFG (GR4980) the Behrens-Weise-Foundation, and the Max Planck Society. D.G. is supported by the Max Planck Society. J.P. is supported by the DFG (SFB/TRR167 B05 and B07), BIH CRG 2a, and the UK DRI Momentum Award. C. Stadelmann is supported by the DFG (STA1389/2-1), the Deutsche Multiple Sklerose Gesellschaft (DMSG), the National MS Society of the USA (NMSS) and the Hertie Foundation. C.B. is supported by the DFG (SFB/TRR167 B05).

Reviewer information

Nature thanks Arnold Kriegstein and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



T.M., R.S., O.S., C.B., L.A., C. Scheiwe, S.N., P.K., G.v.L., V.A.C., P.C.R., A.M., U.S. and R.G. conducted experiments and analysed the data. M.P., C. Stadelmann and J.P. analysed the data, contributed to the in vivo studies and provided mice or reagents. D.G. and S. established the sequencing platform, supervised the sequencing and helped with bioinformatics. T.M. and M.P. supervised the project and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marco Prinz.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Comprehensive analysis of microglial diversity by scRNA-seq.

a, Illustration depicting the workflow for the isolation of microglia from different regions of the CNS of embryonic (E16.5), juvenile (3 weeks of age) and adult (16 weeks of age) mice during homeostasis and during pathology (FNX or cuprizone-mediated demyelination for scRNA-seq). b, t-SNE plot showing 3,826 analysed microglial cells from different conditions tested in this study. Each dot represents a single cell. c, t-SNE plot depicting 13 clusters for all of the different conditions (3,826 cells). Colours represent each cluster. d, t-SNE plots depicting single microglia from the replicates from different regions of the CNS of individual embryos, juvenile and adult mice and diseased mice (3,826 cells).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Subpopulations of microglia with distinct gene expression during development, in mice.

a, Distribution of Malat1 gene expression in a t-SNE plot (2,966 microglia cells). Colour keys represent the respective expression levels. The right cloud represents the embryonic microglial population, whereas the left cloud combines both juvenile and adult microglia as shown in Fig. 1a. b, Left, single-molecule fluorescent in situ hybridization (smFISH) for Malat1 and Cx3cr1 shows the kinetics of Malat1+ microglia during development. Scale bar, 10 μm. Representative images out of two adult mice investigated are shown. Yellow and white arrowheads indicate Malat1+Cx3cr1+ microglia and Malat1+Cx3cr1 non-microglial cells, respectively. Right, frequency of Malat1+ microglia in the forebrain or cortex during development. Bar represents mean ± s.e.m. of 120 cells studied, from 3 animals per time point. c, t-SNE plot of Ctsd and Lamp1 gene expression; these genes were enriched in the C1 and C2 clusters, as shown in Fig. 1b. d, t-SNE plot of Eef1a1 and Rpl4 gene expression; these genes were enriched in the C6 cluster, as shown in Fig. 1b.

Extended Data Fig. 3 CST3 is enriched in adult microglia.

ac, Representative sections of the cortex from adult mice using immunofluoresence for CST3 (green), NeuN for neurons (red, a) and adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) for oligodendrocytes (red, b). The astrocyte marker ALDH1L1 (red, c), combined with CST3, was used on the hippocampal sections. Scale bars, 50 μm (overview), 20 μm (magnification). Representative images out of three mice investigated are shown. d, Quantification of CST3 immunoreactivity in the brain of the adult mouse. Bar represents mean ± s.e.m. of 3 animals (393 microglia, 1,817 neurons, 298 oligodendrocytes and 461 astrocytes).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Diverse clusters of microglia during demyelination and neurodegeneration.

a, Projection of 1,564 single microglia isolated from different regions of the CNS during homeostasis or FNX or cuprizone treatment, shown as a t-SNE plot. b, Heat map of top differentially regulated genes that were up- or downregulated in each cluster. The genes with the highest differentially expression are highlighted. c, t-SNE plot exhibiting 13 clusters for the 1,564 individual microglia isolated from different regions of the CNS during homeostasis or FNX or cuprizone treatment.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Molecular characterization of subpopulations of microglia during demyelination and remyelination.

ac, e, g, i, j, t-SNE plots showing expression of Axl, Igf1, Lyz2, Itgax, Gpnmb and Apoc1 (a); Fam20c, Ccl6, Psat1 and Ank (b); Fn1 (c); Spp1 (e); Cybb (g); H2-Aa and H2-Ab1 (i); and Ccl4 (j) transcripts after cuprizone challenge (3,826 microglial cells). Genes shown in a were upregulated in both demyelination and remyelination, whereas genes depicted in b, c and e or g and i were increased in demyelination-associated clusters C12, or in the remyelination- associated clusters C13, respectively. Colour keys represent the respective expression levels. d, Left and middle, smFISH for Fn1 and Cx3cr1 reveals subpopulations of microglia after a five-week cuprizone treatment in the corpus callosum. ‘1’ indicates Fn1+Cx3cr1+ microglia (yellow arrowheads, Fn1 mRNA); ‘2’ indicates Fn1Cx3cr1+ microglia. Scale bar, 10 μm (overview), 3 μm (inset). Representative images out of three mice investigated are shown. Non-filled arrowheads in the image of control mice indicate non-specific signals. Right, percentage of Fn1+ Cx3cr1+ microglia in the corpus callosum. Bar represents mean ± s.e.m. of 3 animals (168 cells investigated). f, Left and middle, smFISH for Spp1 and Cx3cr1 reveals subpopulations of microglia after a five-week cuprizone treatment in the corpus callosum. ‘1’ indicates Spp1+Cx3cr1+ microglia (yellow arrowheads, Spp1 mRNA); ‘2’ indicates Spp1Cx3cr1+ microglia. Scale bars, 10 μm (overview), 3 μm (insets). Representative images out of three mice investigated are shown. Right, percentage of Spp1+Cx3cr1+ microglia in the corpus callosum. Bar represents mean ± s.e.m. of 3 animals (165 investigated cells). h, Left and middle, smFISH for Cybb and Cx3cr1 reveals subpopulations of microglia after a five-week cuprizone treatment in the corpus callosum. ‘1’ indicates Cybb+Cx3cr1+ microglia (yellow arrowheads, Cybb mRNA); ‘2’ indicates CybbCx3cr1+ microglia. Scale bars, 10 μm (overview) and 3 μm (insets). Representative images out of three mice investigated are shown. Right, percentage of Cybb+Cx3cr1+ microglia in the corpus callosum. Bar represents mean ± s.e.m. of 3 animals (165 investigated cells). The colour key represents the expression levels.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Microglial subtypes in healthy human brains.

a, t-SNE plot of 1,180 human microglia showing the distribution of individual microglia from 5 patients. Each dot represents a single cell. Different colours indicate different patients. b, t-SNE plot of 1,180 individual human microglia isolated from 5 individual non-pathological brains depicts four major clusters (HHu-C1 to HHu-C4). Each dot represents a single cell. Colours correspond to each cluster. c, Heat map showing the distribution of the healthy human clusters in each individual patient. d, Bar graphs representing the relative abundance of microglial cells in the respective clusters from five individual non-pathological brains. Colours represent distinct clusters. e, Heat map of the top differentially regulated genes that were up- or downregulated in each cluster. f, t-SNE plots for CST3, P2RY13, CCL4 and EGR2 mRNA expression. CCL4 and EGR2 are enriched in the cluster HHu-C4.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Detailed neuropathological characterization of lesions of multiple sclerosis.

Histology of the brains of patients with multiple sclerosis (labelled as patients MS-1 to MS-5) using haematoxylin and eosin (HE), luxol fast blue (LFB-PAS), 2′,3′-cyclic-nucleotide 3′-phosphodiesterase (CNPase) and myelin basic protein (MBP) for myelin, human leukocyte antigen DR isotype (HLA-DR) and CD68 for myeloid cells, CD3 for T cells, CD20 for B cells and Bielschowsky (Biel) for axons. Scale bar, 50 μm. Lesions are typical early active multiple-sclerosis lesions, according to the standard classification system36.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Molecular profile of subsets of microglia during multiple sclerosis.

a, t-SNE plots representing the core signature genes for lymphocytes (TRAC, TRBC2, CD52 and IL32), myeloid cells (ITGAM, MS4A6A, TYROBP and CD14) and monocytes (CCR2, PLAC8, CLEC12A and FCN1) in the brains of patients with multiple sclerosis. Colour keys reflect the expression levels. bf, t-SNE plots of genes that are enriched in clusters Hu-C5 to Hu-C7 (b), Hu-C2 (c), Hu-C3 (d), Hu-C4 (e) and Hu-C8 (f) are shown (1,602 microglia cells). Colour codes represent expression levels. g, t-SNE plots depicting genes that are upregulated in the clusters Hu-C2, Hu-C3 and Hu-C8. Colour codes represent expression levels. h, t-SNE plots of genes that were upregulated in the disease-associated subsets of microglia in the mouse demyelination model, but not in the microglia in the brains of patients with multiple sclerosis. Colour codes represent expression levels. i, Immunofluorescence images for TMEM119 and IBA1 in healthy brains or the brains of patients with multiple sclerosis. Arrowheads indicate TMEM119+IBA1+ cells (filled) in the healthy brains, and TMEM119IBA1+ microglia (open) during multiple sclerosis. Representative images out of four mice investigated, per condition, are shown. Scale bar, 50 μm. j, Representative immunofluorescence images for IBA1+MRP14 (indicating microglia) and IBA1+MRP14+ cells (representing infiltrating early activated monocytes) in the healthy brain and brains of patients with multiple sclerosis. Insets show microglia (top row) and monocytes (bottom row) in the multiple-sclerosis lesion. Right, quantification. Bars represent means ± s.e.m. (n = 4 for each condition). Each symbol represents one patient. Scale bars, 50 μm (overview), 4 μm (inset).

Extended Data Fig. 9 Canonical correlation analysis of scRNA-seq data from mouse and human microglia.

a, Canonical correlation analysis (Seurat alignment procedure) visualizing shared correlation structures (that is, canonical correlation vectors (CCs)) between mouse and human datasets. Each dot represents single cell. b, CC plot of cells assigned as mouse clusters C7 to C13 and human clusters Hu-C1 to Hu-C10. Mouse demyelination-related clusters of microglia (C12 and C13) are transcriptionally close to human multiple sclerosis-associated clusters of microglia (Hu-C2, Hu-C3 and Hu-C8). Each dot represents single cell. c, Violin plots depicting a shared gene correlation structure that is conserved between mouse and human clusters. Values for CC1 and CC2 vectors for individual cells are shown.

Extended Data Fig. 10

Graphical abstract of experimental findings.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure

This file contains Supplementary Figure 1: FACS gating strategy for microglia isolation. CNS cells were gated for G1 and G2 (singlets), followed by being gated for living cell (G3, fixable viability dye), CD45intCD11b+ (G4), Ly6C-Ly6G- (G5), and CD206- (G6).

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table

This file contains Supplementary Table split between mouse and human data. The mouse data shows information on mice and cells used in each scRNA-seq analysis including genotype, strain, sex, condition, age, CNS region and cell numbers. The human data shows details on patients and cells used in each scRNAseq analysis including sex, condition, age, CNS region and cell numbers.

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Masuda, T., Sankowski, R., Staszewski, O. et al. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity of mouse and human microglia at single-cell resolution. Nature 566, 388–392 (2019).

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