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Development. 2001 Apr;128(8):1369-79.

Distinct sites of origin of oligodendrocytes and somatic motoneurons in the chick spinal cord: oligodendrocytes arise from Nkx2.2-expressing progenitors by a Shh-dependent mechanism.

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  • 1Centre de Biologie du Développement, UMR 5547 CNRS/UPS, Université Paul Sabatier, 31062 Toulouse, France.


In the vertebrate spinal cord, oligodendrocytes arise from the ventral part of the neuroepithelium, a region also known to generate somatic motoneurons. The emergence of oligodendrocytes, like that of motoneurons, depends on an inductive signal mediated by Sonic hedgehog. We have defined the precise timing of oligodendrocyte progenitor specification in the cervico-brachial spinal cord of the chick embryo. We show that ventral neuroepithelial explants, isolated at various development stages, are unable to generate oligodendrocytes in culture until E5 but become able to do so in an autonomous way from E5.5. This indicates that the induction of oligodendrocyte precursors is a late event that occurs between E5 and E5.5, precisely at the time when the ventral neuroepithelium stops producing somatic motoneurons. Analysis of the spatial restriction of oligodendrocyte progenitors, evidenced by their expression of O4 or PDGFR(&agr;), indicate that they always lie within the most ventral Nkx2.2-expressing domain of the neuroepithelium, and not in the adjacent domain characterized by Pax6 expression from which somatic motoneurons emerge. We then confirm that Shh is necessary between E5 and E5.5 to specify oligodendrocyte precursors but is no longer required beyond this stage to maintain ongoing oligodendrocyte production. Furthermore, Shh is sufficient to induce oligodendrocyte formation from ventral neuroepithelial explants dissected at E5. Newly induced oligodendrocytes expressed Nkx2.2 but not Pax6, correlating with the in vivo observation. Altogether, our results show that, in the chick spinal cord, oligodendrocytes originate from Nkx2.2-expressing progenitors.

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