A map of transcriptional heterogeneity and regulatory variation in human microglia


Microglia, the tissue resident macrophages of the CNS, are implicated in a broad range of neurological pathologies, from acute brain injury to dementia. Here, we profiled gene expression variation in primary human microglia isolated from 141 patients undergoing neurosurgery. Using single cell and bulk RNA sequencing, we defined distinct cellular populations of acutely in vivo -activated microglia, and characterised a dramatic switch in microglial population composition in patients suffering from acute brain injury. We mapped expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) in human microglia and show that many disease-associated eQTLs in microglia replicate well in a human induced pluripotent stem cell (hIPSC) derived macrophage model system. Using ATAC-seq from 95 individuals in this hIPSC model we fine-map candidate causal variants at risk loci for Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent neurodegenerative condition in acute brain injury patients. Our study provides the first population-scale transcriptional map of a critically important cell for neurodegenerative disorders.