iPS-cell-derived microglia promote brain organoid maturation via cholesterol transfer.


Microglia are specialized brain-resident macrophages that arise from primitive macrophages colonizing the embryonic brain1. Microglia contribute to multiple aspects of brain development, but their precise roles in the early human brain remain poorly understood owing to limited access to relevant tissues2-6. The generation of brain organoids from human induced pluripotent stem cells recapitulates some key features of human embryonic brain development7-10. However, current approaches do not incorporate microglia or address their role in organoid maturation11-21. Here we generated microglia-sufficient brain organoids by coculturing brain organoids with primitive-like macrophages generated from the same human induced pluripotent stem cells (iMac)22. In organoid cocultures, iMac differentiated into cells with microglia-like phenotypes and functions (iMicro) and modulated neuronal progenitor cell (NPC) differentiation, limiting NPC proliferation and promoting axonogenesis. Mechanistically, iMicro contained high levels of PLIN2+ lipid droplets that exported cholesterol and its esters, which were taken up by NPCs in the organoids. We also detected PLIN2+ lipid droplet-loaded microglia in mouse and human embryonic brains. Overall, our approach substantially advances current human brain organoid approaches by incorporating microglial cells, as illustrated by the discovery of a key pathway of lipid-mediated crosstalk between microglia and NPCs that leads to improved neurogenesis.