Microglia in the human infant brain and factors that affect expression

Natalie Ambrose, Michael Rodriguez, Karen A. Waters, Rita Machaalani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


The present study reports on the microglial populations present in 34 regions of the human infant brain (1–11 months), and whether developmental parameters or extrinsic factors such as cigarette smoke exposure, prone sleeping and an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) influence their expression. Further, we compare microglia populations amongst three sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) sub-groups: explained SUDI (eSUDI, n ​= ​7), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) I (n ​= ​8) and SIDS II (n ​= ​13). Ionised calcium binding adaptor molecule-1 (Iba1) was used to determine the morphology and area covered by microglia in a given brain region. Activation was explored using cluster-of-differentiation factor 68 (CD68) and human leukocyte antigen-DP,DQ,DR (HLA). We found regional heterogeneity in the area covered and activation status of microglia across the infant brain. The hippocampus, basal ganglia, white matter and dentate nucleus of the cerebellum showed larger areas of Iba1, while the brainstem had the smallest. Microglia in regions of the basal ganglia and cortex demonstrated positive correlations with infant developmental parameters, while in nuclei of the rostral medulla, negative correlations between microglia parameters were seen. URTI and cigarette smoke exposure were associated with a reduced microglial area in regions of the hippocampus and cortex (parietal and occipital), respectively. In the context of SIDS, a reduced microglial area was seen in SIDS II and fewer SIDS I infants demonstrated activated phenotypes in the hippocampus. Overall, we identify the distribution of microglia in the infant brain to be heterogenous, and influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and that the SIDS I group is a useful control group for future research into other infant CNS pathologies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100117
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity - Health
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • CD68
  • Cigarette
  • Growth and development
  • HLA antigens
  • Iba1
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infection
  • SIDS
  • Sleep
  • Sudden infant death


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