Single transcription factor efficiently leads human induced pluripotent stem cells to functional microglia

Background: Microglia are innate immune cells that are the only residential macrophages in the central nervous system. They play vital physiological roles in the adult brain and during development. Microglia are particularly in the spotlight because many genetic risk factors recently identified for neurodegenerative diseases are largely expressed in microglia. Rare polymorphisms in these risk alleles lead to abnormal activity of microglia under traumatic or disease conditions.

Methods: In the present study, to investigate the multifaceted functions of human microglia, we established a novel robust protocol to generate microglia from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) using a combination of cytokines and small chemicals essential for microglia ontogeny. Moreover, we highly enhanced the microglial differentiation efficiency by forcing the expression of PU.1, a crucial transcription factor for microglial development, during posterior mesoderm differentiation.

Results: By our novel method, we demonstrated the generation of a greater number of hiPSC-derived microglia (hiMGLs, approximately 120-folds) than the prior methods (at most 40-folds). Over 90% of the hiMGLs expressed microglia-specific markers, such as CX3CR1 and IBA-1. Whole-transcriptome analysis revealed that these hiMGLs are similar to human primary microglia but differ from monocytes/macrophages. Furthermore, the specific physiological functions of microglia were confirmed through indices of lipopolysaccharide responsiveness, phagocytotic ability, and inflammasome formation. By co-culturing these hiMGLs with mouse primary neurons, we demonstrated that hiMGLs can regulate the activity and maturation of neurons.

Conclusions: In this study, our new simple, rapid, and highly efficient method for generating microglia from hiPSCs will prove useful for future investigations on microglia in both physiological and disease conditions, as well as for drug discovery.


Authors: Sonn I, Honda-Ozaki F, Yoshimatsu S, Morimoto S, Watanabe H, Okano H

Journal:  Inflamm Regener. 2022; 42(1)20.