Microglia are resident immune cells of the central nervous system and play critical roles during the development, homeostasis, and pathologies of the brain. Originated from yolk sac erythromyeloid progenitors, microglia immigrate into the embryonic brain parenchyma to undergo final postnatal differentiation and maturation driven by distinct chemokines, cytokines, and growth factors. Among them, TGFβ1 is an important regulator of microglial functions, mediating homeostasis, anti-inflammation, and triggering the expression of microglial homeostatic signature genes. Since microglia studies are mainly based on rodent cells and the isolation of homeostatic microglia from human tissue is challenging, human-induced pluripotent stem cells have been successfully differentiated into microglia-like cells recently. However, employed differentiation protocols strongly vary regarding used cytokines and growth factors, culture conditions, time span, and cell yield. Moreover, the incomplete differentiation of human microglia can hamper the similarity to primary human microglia and dramatically influence the outcome of follow-up studies with these differentiated cells. This review summarizes the current knowledge of the molecular mechanisms driving rodent microglia differentiation in vivo, further compares published differentiation protocols, and highlights the potential of TGFβ as an essential maturation factor.
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