In the developing mouse retina degenerating neurons can be observed initially in the ganglion cell layer followed by a phase of cell death in the inner nuclear layer. Using an immunohistochemical method to localize the mouse macrophage specific antigen F4/80, we show that macrophages migrate from the vascular supply overlying the developing retina and phagocytose the degenerating neurons. The macrophages subsequently differentiate to become the microglia of the retina and form a regularly spaced distribution across the retina in the inner and outer plexiform layers. These experiments provide strong evidence for the mesodermal origin of central nervous system microglia.

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