Transcriptional profiling of microglia; current state of the art and future perspectives

Emma Gerrits, Yang Heng, Erik W. G. M. Boddeke, Bart J. L. Eggen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
124 Downloads (Pure)


Microglia are the tissue macrophages of the central nervous system (CNS) and the first to respond to CNS dysfunction and disease. Gene expression profiling of microglia during development, under homeostatic conditions, and in the diseased CNS provided insight in microglia functions and changes thereof. Single-cell sequencing studies further contributed to our understanding of microglia heterogeneity in relation to age, sex, and CNS disease. Recently, single nucleus gene expression profiling was performed on (frozen) CNS tissue. Transcriptomic profiling of CNS tissues by (single) nucleus RNA-sequencing has the advantage that it can be applied to archived and well-stratified frozen specimens. Here, we give an overview of the significant advances recently made in microglia transcriptional profiling. In addition, we present matched cellular and nuclear microglia RNA-seq datasets we generated from mouse and human CNS tissue to compare cellular versus nuclear transcriptomes from fresh and frozen samples. We demonstrate that microglia can be similarly profiled with cell and nucleus profiling, and importantly also with nuclei isolated from frozen tissue. Nuclear microglia transcriptomes are a reliable proxy for cellular transcriptomes. Importantly, lipopolysaccharide-induced changes in gene expression were conserved in the nuclear transcriptome. In addition, heterogeneity in microglia observed in fresh samples was similarly detected in frozen nuclei of the same donor. Together, these results show that microglia nuclear RNAs obtained from frozen CNS tissue are a reliable proxy for microglia gene expression and cellular heterogeneity and may prove an effective strategy to study of the role of microglia in neuropathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)740-755
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Early online date17-Dec-2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • human
  • microglia
  • mouse
  • single-cell RNA-sequencing
  • single-nucleus RNA-sequencing
  • transcriptomes

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