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Prog Brain Res. 2005;148:57-68.

Fate restriction and developmental potential of cerebellar progenitors. Transplantation studies in the developing CNS.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience and Rita Levi Montalcini Centre for Brain Repair, University of Turin, Corso Raffaello 30, I-10125 Turin, Italy.


The generation of cell diversity from undifferentiated progenitors is regulated by interdependent mechanisms, including cell intrinsic programs and environmental cues. This interaction can be investigated by means of heterochronic/heterotopic transplantation, which allows to examine the behaviour of precursor cells in an unusual environment. The cerebellum provides an ideal model to study cell specification, because its neurons originate according to a well-defined timetable and they can be are readily recognised by morphological features and specific markers. Cerebellar progenitors transplanted to the embryonic cerebellum develop fully mature cerebellar neurons, which often integrate in the host circuitry in a highly specific manner. In extracerebellar locations, cerebellar progenitors preferentially settle in caudal CNS regions where they exclusively acquire cerebellar identities. By contrast, neocortical precursors preferentially settle in rostral regions and fail to develop hindbrain phenotypes. The phenotypic repertoire generated by transplanted cerebellar progenitors is strictly dependent on their age. Embryonic progenitors originate all mature cerebellar cells, whereas postnatal ones exclusively generate later-born types, such as molecular layer interneurons and granule cells. Together, these observations foster the hypothesis that neural progenitors are first specified towards region-specific phenotypes along the rostro-caudal axis of the neural tube. Thereafter, the developmental potential of progenitor cells is progressively restricted towards later generated types. Such a progressive specification of precursor cells in space and time is stably transmitted to their progeny and it cannot be modified by local cues, when these cells are confronted with heterotopic and/or heterochronic environments.

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