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Microglia originate from yolk sac-primitive macrophages and auto-proliferate into adulthood without replacement by bone marrow-derived circulating cells. In inflammation, stroke, aging, or infection, microglia have been shown to contribute to brain pathology in both deleterious and beneficial ways, which have been studied extensively. However, less is known about their role in the healthy adult brain. Astrocytes and oligodendrocytes are widely accepted to strongly contribute to the maintenance of brain homeostasis and to modulate neuronal function. On the other hand, contribution of microglia to cognition and behavior is only beginning to be understood. The ability to probe their function has become possible using microglial depletion assays and conditional mutants. Studies have shown that the absence of microglia results in cognitive and learning deficits in rodents during development, but this effect is less pronounced in adults. However, evidence suggests that microglia play a role in cognition and learning in adulthood and, at a cellular level, may modulate adult neurogenesis. This review presents the case for repositioning microglia as key contributors to the maintenance of homeostasis and cognitive processes in the healthy adult brain, in addition to their classical role as sentinels coordinating the neuroinflammatory response to tissue damage and disease.

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Laboratório de Farmacologia Molecular (Instituto de Ciências Biológicas), Universidade Federal do Pará, Belém 66075-110, Brasil.