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Gene regulatory networks underlying human microglia maturation


The fetal period is a critical time for brain development, characterized by neurogenesis, neural migration, and synaptogenesis 1-3 . Microglia, the tissue resident macrophages of the brain, are observed as early as the fourth week of gestation 4 and are thought to engage in a variety of processes essential for brain development and homeostasis 5-11 . Conversely, microglia phenotypes are highly regulated by the brain environment 12-14 . Mechanisms by which human brain development influences the maturation of microglia and microglia potential contribution to neurodevelopmental disorders remain poorly understood. Here, we performed transcriptomic analysis of human fetal and postnatal microglia and corresponding cortical tissue to define age-specific brain environmental factors that may drive microglia phenotypes. Comparative analysis of open chromatin profiles using bulk and single-cell methods in conjunction with a new computational approach that integrates epigenomic and single-cell RNA-seq data allowed decoding of cellular heterogeneity with inference of subtype- and development stage-specific transcriptional regulators. Interrogation of in vivo and in vitro iPSC-derived microglia models provides evidence for roles of putative instructive signals and downstream gene regulatory networks which establish human-specific fetal and postnatal microglia gene expression programs and potentially contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders.

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