Barn owls are capable of great accuracy in detecting the interaural time differences (ITDs) that underlie azimuthal sound localization. They compute ITDs in a circuit in nucleus laminaris (NL) that is reorganized with respect to birds like the chicken. The events that lead to the reorganization of the barn owl NL take place during embryonic development, shortly after the cochlear and laminaris nuclei have differentiated morphologically. At first the developing owl’s auditory brainstem exhibits morphology reminiscent of that of the developing chicken. Later, the two systems diverge, and the owl’s brainstem auditory nuclei undergo a secondary morphogenetic phase during which NL dendrites retract, the laminar organization is lost, and synapses are redistributed. These events lead to the restructuring of the ITD coding circuit and the consequent reorganization of the hindbrain map of ITDs and azimuthal space.
avian development; morphogenesis; auditory; laminaris; evolution; interaural time difference
A biologically detailed model of the binaural avian nucleus laminaris is constructed, as a two-dimensional array of multicompartment, conductance-based neurons, along tonotopic and interaural time delay (ITD) axes. The model is based primarily on data from chick nucleus laminaris. Typical chick-like parameters perform ITD discrimination up to 2 kHz, and enhancements for barn owl perform ITD discrimination up to 6 kHz. The dendritic length gradient of NL is explained concisely. The response to binaural out-of-phase input is suppressed well below the response to monaural input (without any spontaneous activity on the opposite side), implicating active potassium channels as crucial to good ITD discrimination.
In the auditory system, precise encoding of temporal information is critical for sound localization, a task with direct behavioral relevance. Interaural timing differences are computed using axonal delay lines and cellular coincidence detectors in nucleus laminaris (NL). We present morphological and physiological data on the timing circuits in the emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, and compare these results with those from the barn owl (Tyto alba) and the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). Emu NL was composed of a compact monolayer of bitufted neurons whose two thick primary dendrites were oriented dorsoventrally. They showed a gradient in dendritic length along the presumed tonotopic axis. The NL and nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons were strongly immunoreactive for parvalbumin, a calcium-binding protein. Antibodies against synaptic vesicle protein 2 and glutamic acid decarboxlyase revealed that excitatory synapses terminated heavily on the dendritic tufts, while inhibitory terminals were distributed more uniformly. Physiological recordings from brainstem slices demonstrated contralateral delay lines from NM to NL. During whole-cell patch-clamp recordings, NM and NL neurons fired single spikes and were doubly-rectifying. NL and NM neurons had input resistances of 30.0 ± 19.9 MΩ and 49.0 ± 25.6 MΩ, respectively, and membrane time constants of 12.8 ± 3.8 ms and 3.9 ± 0.2 ms. These results provide further support for the Jeffress model for sound localization in birds. The emu timing circuits showed the ancestral (plesiomorphic) pattern in their anatomy and physiology, while differences in dendritic structure compared to chick and owl may indicate specialization for encoding ITDs at low best frequencies.
avian; nucleus laminaris; nucleus magnocellularis; dendrite; coincidence detection; sound localization
Oligodendrocytes are the glial cells responsible for myelin formation. Myelination occurs during the first postnatal weeks and, in rodents, is completed during the third week after birth. Myelin ensures the fast conduction of the nerve impulse; in the adult, myelin proteins have an inhibitory role on axon growth and regeneration after injury. During brain development, oligodendrocytes precursors originating in multiple locations along the antero-posterior axis actively proliferate and migrate to colonize the whole brain. Whether the initial interactions between oligodendrocytes and neurons might play a functional role before the onset of myelination is still not completely elucidated. In this article, we addressed this question by transgenically targeted ablation of proliferating oligodendrocytes during cerebellum development. Interestingly, we show that depletion of oligodendrocytes at postnatal day 1 (P1) profoundly affects the establishment of cerebellar circuitries. We observed an impressive deregulation in the expression of molecules involved in axon growth, guidance and synaptic plasticity. These effects were accompanied by an outstanding increase of neurofilament staining observed 4 hours after the beginning of the ablation protocol, likely dependent from sprouting of cerebellar fibers. Oligodendrocyte ablation modifies localization and function of ionotropic glutamate receptors in Purkinje neurons. These results show a novel oligodendrocyte function expressed during early postnatal brain development, where these cells participate in the formation of cerebellar circuitries, and influence its development.
A recurring theme in theoretical work is that integration over populations of similarly tuned neurons can reduce neural noise. However, there are relatively few demonstrations of an explicit noise reduction mechanism in a neural network. Here we demonstrate that the brainstem of the barn owl includes a stage of processing apparently devoted to increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in the encoding of the interaural time difference (ITD), one of two primary binaural cues used to compute the position of a sound source in space. In the barn owl, the ITD is processed in a dedicated neural pathway that terminates at the core of the inferior colliculus (ICcc). The actual locus of the computation of the ITD is before ICcc in the nucleus laminaris (NL), and ICcc receives no inputs carrying information that did not originate in NL. Unlike in NL, the rate-ITD functions of ICcc neurons require as little as a single stimulus presentation per ITD to show coherent ITD tuning. ICcc neurons also displayed a greater dynamic range with a maximal difference in ITD response rates approximately double that seen in NL. These results indicate that ICcc neurons perform a computation functionally analogous to averaging across a population of similarly tuned NL neurons.
interaural time difference; sound localization; inferior colliculus; nucleus laminaris; barn owl; pooling
Understanding binaural perception requires detailed analyses of the neural circuitry responsible for the computation of interaural time differences (ITDs). In the avian brainstem, this circuit consists of internal axonal delay lines innervating an array of coincidence detector neurons that encode external ITDs. Nucleus magnocellularis (NM) neurons project to the dorsal dendritic field of the ipsilateral nucleus laminaris (NL) and to the ventral field of the contralateral NL. Contralateral-projecting axons form a delay line system along a band of NL neurons. Binaural acoustic signals in the form of phase-locked action potentials from NM cells arrive at NL and establish a topographic map of sound source location along the azimuth. These pathways are assumed to represent a circuit similar to the Jeffress model of sound localization, establishing a place code along an isofrequency contour of NL. Three-dimensional measurements of axon lengths reveal major discrepancies with the current model; the temporal offset based on conduction length alone makes encoding of physiological ITDs impossible. However, axon diameter and distances between Nodes of Ranvier also influence signal propagation times along an axon. Our measurements of these parameters reveal that diameter and internode distance can compensate for the temporal offset inferred from axon lengths alone. Together with other recent studies these unexpected results should inspire new thinking on the cellular biology, evolution and plasticity of the circuitry underlying low frequency sound localization in both birds and mammals.
Sound; Localization; Auditory; Brainstem; Axon; Conduction; Velocity
Although the transcription factors required for the generation of oligodendrocytes and CNS myelination during development have been relatively well established, it is not known whether continued expression of the same factors is required for the maintenance of myelin in the adult. Here, we use an inducible conditional knock-out strategy to investigate whether continued oligodendrocyte expression of the recently identified transcription factor myelin gene regulatory factor (MRF) is required to maintain the integrity of myelin in the adult CNS. Genetic ablation of MRF in mature oligodendrocytes within the adult CNS resulted in a delayed but severe CNS demyelination, with clinical symptoms beginning at 5 weeks and peaking at 8 weeks after ablation of MRF. This demyelination was accompanied by microglial/macrophage infiltration and axonal damage. Transcripts for myelin genes, such as proteolipid protein, MAG, MBP, and myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein, were rapidly downregulated after ablation of MRF, indicating an ongoing requirement for MRF in the expression of these genes. Subsequently, a proportion of the recombined oligodendrocytes undergo apoptosis over a period of weeks. Surviving oligodendrocytes gradually lose the expression of mature markers such as CC1 antigen and their association with myelin, without reexpressing oligodendrocyte progenitor markers or reentering the cell cycle. These results demonstrate that ongoing expression of MRF within the adult CNS is critical to maintain mature oligodendrocyte identity and the integrity of CNS myelin.
We have investigated the potential role of contactin and contactin-associated protein (Caspr) in the axonal–glial interactions of myelination. In the nervous system, contactin is expressed by neurons, oligodendrocytes, and their progenitors, but not by Schwann cells. Expression of Caspr, a homologue of Neurexin IV, is restricted to neurons. Both contactin and Caspr are uniformly expressed at high levels on the surface of unensheathed neurites and are downregulated during myelination in vitro and in vivo. Contactin is downregulated along the entire myelinated nerve fiber. In contrast, Caspr expression initially remains elevated along segments of neurites associated with nascent myelin sheaths. With further maturation, Caspr is downregulated in the internode and becomes strikingly concentrated in the paranodal regions of the axon, suggesting that it redistributes from the internode to these sites. Caspr expression is similarly restricted to the paranodes of mature myelinated axons in the peripheral and central nervous systems; it is more diffusely and persistently expressed in gray matter and on unmyelinated axons. Immunoelectron microscopy demonstrated that Caspr is localized to the septate-like junctions that form between axons and the paranodal loops of myelinating cells. Caspr is poorly extracted by nonionic detergents, suggesting that it is associated with the axon cytoskeleton at these junctions. These results indicate that contactin and Caspr function independently during myelination and that their expression is regulated by glial ensheathment. They strongly implicate Caspr as a major transmembrane component of the paranodal junctions, whose molecular composition has previously been unknown, and suggest its role in the reciprocal signaling between axons and glia.
Formation of the central nervous system (CNS) white matter is developmentally tightly regulated, but the molecules and mechanisms of myelination control in the postnatal CNS are poorly understood. Here, we show that myelin growth is controlled by Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) signaling, originally identified as a proliferative signal for oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPC) in vitro. We created two lines of mice lacking both FGF-receptor 1 (Fgfr1) and Fgfr2 in oligodendrocyte lineage cells but found that in these mice OPC proliferation and differentiation were unaffected. Also axonal ensheathment and the initiation of myelination was on time. However, the rapid growth of CNS myelin, normally occurring in the second postnatal week, was strongly inhibited. Throughout adulthood, the myelin sheath remained disproportionately thin relative to the axon caliber. In adult mice, mutant oligodendrocytes were normal in number, whereas the transcription of major myelin genes was reduced. This FGF-receptor mediated stimulation of mature oligodendrocytes could also be modeled in vitro, demonstrating that enhanced expansion of oligodendroglial processes requires signaling by extracellular-signal regulated kinases-1 and -2 (Erk1/2), downstream mediaters of Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK). Also in vivo, Erk1/2-MAPK activity was reduced in the hypomyelinated CNS of Fgfr1/Fgfr2 mutant mice. These studies reveal a previously unrecognized function of FGF-receptor signaling in oligodendrocytes that contributes to the regulation of myelin sheath thickness, and which uncouples the initiation of ensheathment from the later phase of continued myelin growth.
The auditory system encodes time with sub-millisecond accuracy. To shed new light on the basic mechanism underlying this precise temporal neuronal coding, we analyzed the neurophonic potential, a characteristic multiunit response, in the barn owl’s nucleus laminaris. We report here that the relative time measure of phase delay is robust against changes in sound level, with a precision sharper than 20 µs. Absolute measures of delay, such as group delay or signal-front delay, had much greater temporal jitter, for example due to their strong dependence on sound level. Our findings support the hypothesis that phase delay underlies the sub-millisecond precision of the representation of interaural time difference needed for sound localization.
Animals, including humans, use interaural time differences (ITDs) that arise from different sound path lengths to the two ears as a cue of horizontal sound source location. The nature of the neural code for ITD is still controversial. Current models differentiate between two population codes: either a map-like rate-place code of ITD along an array of neurons, consistent with a large body of data in the barn owl, or a population rate code, consistent with data from small mammals. Recently, it was proposed that these different codes reflect optimal coding strategies that depend on head size and sound frequency. The chicken makes an excellent test case of this proposal because its physical pre-requisites are similar to small mammals, yet it shares a more recent common ancestry with the owl. We show here that, like in the barn owl, the brainstem nucleus laminaris in mature chickens displayed the major features of a place code of ITD. ITD was topographically represented in the maximal responses of neurons along each isofrequency band, covering approximately the contralateral acoustic hemisphere. Furthermore, the represented ITD range appeared to change with frequency, consistent with a pressure gradient receiver mechanism in the avian middle ear. At very low frequencies, below400 Hz, maximal neural responses were symmetrically distributed around zero ITD and it remained unclear whether there was a topographic representation. These findings do not agree with the above predictions for optimal coding and thus revive the discussion as to what determines the neural coding strategies for ITDs.
Auditory; Hearing; Sound localization; Sensory
Space-specific neurons in the barn owl’s auditory space map gain spatial selectivity through tuning to combinations of the interaural time difference (ITD) and interaural level difference (ILD). The combination of ITD and ILD in the subthreshold responses of space-specific neurons in the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICx) is well described by a multiplication of ITD- and ILD-dependent components. It is unknown, however, how ITD and ILD are combined at the site of ITD and ILD convergence in the lateral shell of the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICcl) and therefore whether ICx is the first site in the auditory pathway where multiplicative tuning to ITD-and ILD-dependent signals occurs. We used extracellular re-cording of single neurons to determine how ITD and ILD are combined in ICcl of the anesthetized barn owl (Tyto alba). A comparison of additive, multiplicative, and linear-threshold models of neural responses shows that ITD and ILD are combined nonlinearly in ICcl, but the interaction of ITD and ILD is not uniformly multiplicative over the sample. A subset (61%) of the neural responses is well described by the multiplicative model, indicating that ICcl is the first site where multiplicative tuning to ITD- and ILD-dependent signals occurs. ICx, however, is the first site where multiplicative tuning is observed consistently. A network model shows that a linear combination of ICcl responses to ITD–ILD pairs is sufficient to produce the multiplicative subthreshold responses to ITD and ILD seen in ICx.
An in vitro myelination model derived from rat central nervous system (CNS) remains to be established. Here, we describe a simple and reproducible myelination culture method using dissociated neuron-oligodendrocyte (OL) co-cultures from either the embryonic day 16 (E16) rat spinal cord or cerebral cortex. The dissociated cells are plated directly on poly-L-lysine-coated cover slips and maintained in a modified myelination medium that supports both OL and neuron differentiation. The spinal cord derived OL progenitor cells develop quickly into myelin basic protein (MBP)+ mature OLs and start to myelinate axons around 17 days in vitro (DIV17). Myelination reaches its peak around six weeks (DIV40) and the typical nodes of Ranvier are revealed by paranodal proteins Caspr and juxaparanodal protein Kv1.2 immunoreactivity. Electron microscopy (EM) shows typical myelination cytoarchitecture and synaptic organization. In contrast, the cortical-derived co-culture requires triiodothyronine (T3) in the culture medium for myelination. Finally, either hypomyelination and/or demyelination can be induced by exposing proinflammatory cytokines or demyelinating agents to the co-culture, suggesting the feasibility of this modified in vitro myelination model for myelin-deficit investigation.
CNS; myelination; neuron; oligodendrocyte; rat
This paper presents a circular microfluidic compartmentalized co-culture platform that can be used for central nervous system (CNS) axon myelination research. The microfluidic platform is composed of a soma compartment and an axon/glia compartment connected through arrays of axon-guiding microchannels. Myelin-producing glia, oligodendrocytes (OLs), placed in the axon/glia compartment, interact with only axons but not with neuronal somata confined to the soma compartment, reminiscent to in vivo situation where many axon fibres are myelinated by OLs at distance away from neuronal cell bodies. Primary forebrain neurons from embryonic day 16–18 rats were cultured inside the soma compartment for two weeks to allow them to mature and form extensive axon networks. OL progenitors, isolated from postnatal day 1–2 rat brains, were then added to the axon/glia compartment and co-cultured with neurons for an additional two weeks. The microdevice showed fluidic isolation between the two compartments and successfully isolated neuronal cell bodies and dendrites from axons growing through the arrays of axon-guiding microchannels into the axon/glia compartment. The circular co-culture device developed here showed excellent cell loading characteristics where significant numbers of cells were positioned near the axon-guiding microchannels. This significantly increased the probability of axons crossing these microchannels as demonstrated by the more than 51% of the area of the axon/glia compartment covered with axons two weeks after cell seeding. OL progenitors co-cultured with axons inside the axon/glia compartment successfully differentiated into mature OLs. These results indicate that this device can be used as an excellent in vitro co-culture platform for studying localized axon-glia interaction and signalling.
Cell culture microsystem; neuron co-culture; axon-glia interaction
Myelination is an important process in brain development, and delays or abnormalities in this process have been associated with a number of conditions including autism, developmental delay, attention deficit disorder, and schizophrenia. Myelination can be sensitive to developmental experience; however, although the adult brain remains highly plastic, it is unknown whether myelination continues to be sensitive to experience during adulthood. Male and female rats were socially housed until four months of age, at which time they were moved into either a complex or “enriched” environment (EC) or an isolated condition (IC). Although the area of the splenium (posterior 20% of the callosum, which contains axons from visual cortical neurons) increased by about 10% following two months of EC housing, the area occupied by myelinated axons was not influenced by adult housing condition. Instead, it was the area occupied by glial cell processes and unmyelinated axons which significantly increased following EC housing. Neither the size nor the myelin content of the genu (anterior 15% of the callosum) was sensitive to manipulations of adult housing condition, but males had more area occupied by myelinated axons in both callosal regions. Finally, the inability of two months of complex environment housing during adulthood to impact the number of myelinated axons in the splenium was confirmed in a subset of animals using quantitative electron microscopy. We conclude that the sensitivity of myelination to experience is reduced in adulthood relative to development in both sexes.
enrichment; EC; electron microscopy; sex differences; splenium; genu
Myelin, the insulating layers of membrane wrapped around axons by oligodendrocytes, is essential for normal impulse conduction. It forms during late stages of fetal development but continues into early adult life. Myelination correlates with cognitive development and can be regulated by impulse activity through unknown molecular mechanisms. Astrocytes do not form myelin, but these nonneuronal cells can promote myelination in ways that are not understood. Here, we identify a link between myelination, astrocytes, and electrical impulse activity in axons that is mediated by the cytokine leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). These findings show that LIF is released by astrocytes in response to ATP liberated from axons firing action potentials, and LIF promotes myelination by mature oligodendrocytes. This activity-dependent mechanism promoting myelination could regulate myelination according to functional activity or environmental experience and may offer new approaches to treating demyelinating diseases.
In the central nervous system (CNS) of most vertebrates, oligodendrocytes enwrap neuronal axons with extensions of their plasma membrane to form the myelin sheath. Several proteins are characteristically found in myelin of which myelin basic protein (MBP) is the second most abundant one after proteolipid protein. The lack of functional MBP in rodents results in a severe hypomyelinated phenotype in the CNS demonstrating its importance for myelin synthesis. Mbp mRNA is transported from the nucleus to the plasma membrane and is translated locally at the axon–glial contact site. Axonal properties such as diameter or electrical activity influence the degree of myelination. As oligodendrocytes can myelinate many axonal segments with varying properties, localized MBP translation represents an important part of a rapid and axon-tailored synthesis machinery. MBP’s ability to compact cellular membranes may be problematic for the integrity of intracellular membranous organelles and can also explain why MBP is transported in oligodendrocytes in the form of an mRNA rather than as a protein. Here we review the recent findings regarding intracellular transport and signaling mechanisms leading to localized translation of Mbp mRNA in oligodendrocytes. More detailed insights into the MBP synthesis pathway are important for a better understanding of the myelination process and may foster the development of remyelination therapies for demyelinating diseases.
myelin basic protein; hnRNP A2; mRNA localization; oligodendrocyte; Fyn; RNA granule; translational regulation; review
The velocity of the nerve impulse conduction of vertebrates relies on the myelin sheath, an electrically insulating layer that surrounds axons in both the central and peripheral nervous systems, enabling saltatory conduction of the action potential. Oligodendrocytes are the myelin-producing glial cells in the central nervous system. A deeper understanding of the molecular basis of myelination and, specifically, of the transport of myelin proteins, will contribute to the search of the aetiology of many dysmyelinating and demyelinating diseases, including multiple sclerosis. Recent investigations suggest that proteolipid protein (PLP), the major myelin protein, could reach myelin sheath by an indirect transport pathway, that is, a transcytotic route via the plasma membrane of the cell body. If PLP transport relies on a transcytotic process, it is reasonable to consider that this myelin protein could be associated with MAL2, a raft protein essential for transcytosis. In this study, carried out with the human oligodendrocytic cell line HOG, we show that PLP colocalized with green fluorescent protein (GFP)-MAL2 after internalization from the plasma membrane. In addition, both immunoprecipitation and immunofluorescence assays, indicated the existence of an interaction between GFP-MAL2 and PLP. Finally, ultrastructural studies demonstrated colocalization of GFP-MAL2 and PLP in vesicles and tubulovesicular structures. Taken together, these results prove for the first time the interaction of PLP and MAL2 in oligodendrocytic cells, supporting the transcytotic model of PLP transport previously suggested.
Performing sound recognition is a task that requires an encoding of the time-varying spectral structure of the auditory stimulus. Similarly, computation of the interaural time difference (ITD) requires knowledge of the precise timing of the stimulus. Consistent with this, low-level nuclei of birds and mammals implicated in ITD processing encode the ongoing phase of a stimulus. However, the brain areas that follow the binaural convergence for the computation of ITD show a reduced capacity for phase locking. In addition, we have shown that in the barn owl there is a pooling of ITD-responsive neurons to improve the reliability of ITD coding. Here we demonstrate that despite two stages of convergence and an effective loss of phase information, the auditory system of the anesthetized barn owl displays a graceful transition to an envelope coding that preserves the spectrotemporal information throughout the ITD pathway to the neurons of the core of the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus.
Nerve roots have specialized transition zones that permit axon extension but limit cell movement between the CNS and PNS. Boundary cap cells prevent motor neuron soma from following their axons into the periphery, thereby contributing to a selective barrier. Transition zones also restrict movement of glial cells. Consequently, axons that cross the CNS–PNS interface are insulated by central and peripheral myelin. The mechanisms that prevent the migratory progenitors of oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells, the myelinating cells of the CNS and PNS, respectively, from crossing transition zones are not known. Here, we show that interactions between myelinating glial cells prevent their movements across the interface. Using in vivo time-lapse imaging in zebrafish we found that, in the absence of Schwann cells, oligodendrocyte progenitors cross ventral root transition zones and myelinate motor axons. These studies reveal that distinct mechanisms regulate the movement of axons, neurons, and glial cells across the CNS–PNS interface.
Multiple lines of evidence have indicated that the inability of adult mammalian central nervous system (CNS) axons to regenerate after injury is partly due to the growth inhibitory property of central myelin. Three prototypical myelin-associated inhibitors of neurite outgrowth have been identified, including Nogo, myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG), oligodendrocyte-myelin glycoprotein (OMgp). These inhibitory ligands, their receptors and signaling pathways are being intensively investigated for their roles in CNS axon regeneration failure. In addition, several members of the axon guidance molecules have been implicated in restricting CNS axon regeneration, some of which are expressed by mature oligodendrocytes. Here we review in vitro and in vivo studies of these molecules in neurite growth and in axon regeneration failure and discuss the implications of these studies. While the increasing number of potential axon regeneration inhibitors highlights the complexity of the restrictive CNS environment, it provides new windows of opportunity as well as new challenges for therapeutic development for spinal cord injury and related neurological conditions.
axon regeneration; spinal cord injury; myelin inhibitor; neurite outgrowth; central nervous system repair; corticospinal tract
Nectin-like 1 (Necl-1) is a neural-specific cell adhesion molecule that is expressed in both the CNS and PNS. Previous in vitro studies suggested that Necl-1 expression is essential for the axon-glial interaction and myelin sheath formation in the PNS. To investigate the in vivo role of Necl-1 in axonal myelination of the developing nervous system, we generated the Necl-1 mutant mice by replacing axons 2–5 with the LacZ reporter gene. Expression studies revealed that Necl-1 is exclusively expressed by neurons in the CNS. Disruption of Necl-1 resulted in developmental delay of axonal myelination in the optic nerve and spinal cord, suggesting that Necl-1 plays an important role in the initial axon-oligodendrocyte recognition and adhesion in CNS myelination.
cell adhesion molecule; gene targeting; myelination; spinal cord; optic nerve; knock-out
Studies of myelination after transplantation of mature oligodendrocytes to cerebellar cultures in which
oligodendrocyte maturation and myelination had been irreversibly inhibited by exposure to cytosine
arabinoside were reviewed. Transplanted oligodendrocytes were derived from three sources, including cerebellar
explants treated with kainic acid, dissociated oligodendrocyte cultures, and optic nerve fragments.
Oligodendrocytes from all sources migrated into the host explants and myelinated appropriate axons. The
time of appearance of myelin and the percentage of host cultures myelinated differed for the three sources
of oligodendrocytes, however. Myelin was visible earliest and in the highest percentage of host explants transplanted
with cultured dissociated oligodendrocytes, which were presumably the most free to migrate into
the host tissue, and latest and in the lowest percentage of host cultures transplanted with optic nerve, from
which oligodendrocytes were presumably least free to migrate. Some myelin-like membranes unassociated
with axons appeared in cerebellar cultures transplanted with cultured dissociated oligodendrocytes, and not
in cerebellar explants transplanted with oligodendrocytes from other sources. The formation of such myelin-like
membranes was interpreted as a manifestation of oligodendrocyte hyperreactivity induced by culture
Wrapping of the myelin sheath around axons by oligodendrocytes is critical for the rapid conduction of electrical signals, required for the normal functioning of the central nervous system (CNS). Myelination is a multistep process where oligodendrocytes progress through a well-coordinated differentiation program regulated by multiple extracellular growth and differentiation signals. The intracellular-transduction of the extracellular signals that regulate myelination is poorly understood. Here we demonstrate a critical role for two important signaling molecules, extracelluar-signal-regulated-kinases-1 and -2 (ERK1/ERK2), downstream mediators of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), in the control of CNS myelin thickness. We generated and analyzed two lines of mice lacking both ERK1/ERK2 function specifically in oligodendrocyte-lineage cells. In the absence of ERK1/ERK2 signaling oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPC) proliferated and differentiated on schedule. Mutant oligodendrocytes also ensheathed axons normally and made a few wraps of compact myelin. However, the subsequent increase in myelination that correlated myelin thickness in proportion to the axon caliber failed to occur. Furthermore, although the numbers of differentiated oligodendrocytes in the adult mutants were unchanged, they showed an inability to upregulate the transcription of major myelin genes that normally occurs during active myelination. Similarly, in vitro ERK1/ERK2 deficient NG2+ oligodendrocytes differentiated normally but failed to form typical myelin-like membrane sheets. None of these effects were observed in single ERK1 or ERK2 mutants. These studies suggest that the predominant role of ERK1/ERK2 signaling in vivo is in promoting rapid myelin growth to increase its thickness, subsequent to oligodendrocyte differentiation and the initiation of myelination.
Retinal ganglion cell axons and axonal electrical activity have been considered essential for migration, proliferation, and survival of oligodendrocyte lineage cells in the optic nerve. To define axonal requirements during oligodendrogenesis, the developmental appearance of oligodendrocyte progenitors and oligodendrocytes were compared between normal and transected optic nerves. In the absence of viable axons, oligodendrocyte precursors migrated along the length of the nerve and subsequently multiplied and differentiated into myelin basic protein–positive oligodendrocytes at similar densities and with similar temporal and spatial patterns as in control nerves. Since transected optic nerves failed to grow radially, the number of oligodendrocyte lineage cells was reduced compared with control nerves. However, the mitotic indices of progenitors and the percentage of oligodendrocytes undergoing programmed cell death were similar in control and transected optic nerves. Oligodendrocytes lacked their normal longitudinal orientation, developed fewer, shorter processes, and failed to form myelin in the transected nerves. These data indicate that normal densities of oligodendrocytes can develop in the absence of viable retinal ganglion axons, and support the possibility that axons assure their own myelination by regulating the number of myelin internodes formed by individual oligodendrocytes.
oligodendrocyte progenitor cells; axon–glial interactions; myelination; optic nerve; program cell death