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Abstract

Microglia are the primary innate immune cell type in the brain that have been implicated in the pathogenesis of several neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders, most notably Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and schizophrenia. Microglia generated from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) represent a promising in vitro cellular model for studying the neuroimmune interactions involved in these disorders. Among several methods of generating ­hiPSC-derived microglia (iMG) – varying in duration and resultant purity – a recent protocol by Brownjohn et al. [Stem Cell Reports. 2018 Apr;10(4):1294–307] is particularly simple and efficient. However, the replicability of this method, transcriptomic similarity of these iMG to primary adult microglia, and their genetic relevance to disease (i.e., enrichment of disease risk loci in genes preferentially expressed in these cells) remains unclear. Using two hiPSC lines, we demonstrated that Brownjohn’s protocol can rapidly generate iMG that morphologically and functionally resembled microglia. The iMG cells we generated were found to be transcriptionally similar to previously reported iMG, as well as fetal and adult microglia. Furthermore, by using cell type-specific gene expression to partition disease heritability, we showed that iMG cells are genetically relevant to AD but found no significant enrichments of risk loci of Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, or body mass index. Across a range of neuronal and immune cell types, we found only iMG, primary microglia, and microglia-like cell types exhibited a significant enrichment for AD heritability. Our results thus support the use of iMG as a human cellular model for understanding AD biology and underlying genetic factors, as well as for developing and efficiently screening new therapeutics.

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