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We have shown previously that oligodendrocyte-type-2 astrocyte (O-2A) progenitor cells isolated from adult rat optic nerves can be distinguished in vitro from their perinatal counterparts on the basis of their much slower rates of division, differentiation, and migration when grown in the presence of cortical astrocytes or PDGF. This behavior is consistent with in vivo observations that there is only a modest production of oligodendrocytes in the adult CNS. As such a behavior is inconsistent with the likely need for a rapid generation of oligodendrocytes following demyelinating damage to the mature CNS, we have been concerned with identifying in vitro conditions that allow O- 2Aadult progenitor cells to generate rapidly large numbers of progeny cells. We now provide evidence that many slowly dividing O-2Aadult progenitor cells can be converted to rapidly dividing cells by exposing adult optic nerve cultures to both PDGF and bFGF. In addition, these O- 2Aadult progenitor cells appear to acquire other properties of O- 2Aperinatal progenitor cells, such as bipolar morphology and high rate of migration. Although many O-2Aadult progenitor cells in cultures exposed to bFGF alone also divide rapidly, these cells are multipolar and migrate little in vitro. Oligodendrocytic differentiation of O- 2Aadult progenitor cells, which express receptors for bFGF in vitro, is almost completely inhibited in cultures exposed to bFGF or bFGF plus PDGF. As bFGF and PDGF appear to be upregulated and/or released after injury to the adult brain, this particular in vitro response of O- 2Aadult progenitor cells to PDGF and bFGF may be of importance in the generation of large numbers of new oligodendrocytes in vivo following demyelination.