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Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2013 Nov 25;4:176. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2013.00176.

Methodological limitations in determining astrocytic gene expression.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Pharmacology, China Medical University , Shenyang , China.


Traditionally, astrocytic mRNA and protein expression are studied by in situ hybridization (ISH) and immunohistochemically. This led to the concept that astrocytes lack aralar, a component of the malate-aspartate-shuttle. At least similar aralar mRNA and protein expression in astrocytes and neurons isolated by fluorescence-assisted cell sorting (FACS) reversed this opinion. Demonstration of expression of other astrocytic genes may also be erroneous. Literature data based on morphological methods were therefore compared with mRNA expression in cells obtained by recently developed methods for determination of cell-specific gene expression. All Na,K-ATPase-α subunits were demonstrated by immunohistochemistry (IHC), but there are problems with the cotransporter NKCC1. Glutamate and GABA transporter gene expression was well determined immunohistochemically. The same applies to expression of many genes of glucose metabolism, whereas a single study based on findings in bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) transgenic animals showed very low astrocytic expression of hexokinase. Gene expression of the equilibrative nucleoside transporters ENT1 and ENT2 was recognized by ISH, but ENT3 was not. The same applies to the concentrative transporters CNT2 and CNT3. All were clearly expressed in FACS-isolated cells, followed by biochemical analysis. ENT3 was enriched in astrocytes. Expression of many nucleoside transporter genes were shown by microarray analysis, whereas other important genes were not. Results in cultured astrocytes resembled those obtained by FACS. These findings call for reappraisal of cellular nucleoside transporter expression. FACS cell yield is small. Further development of cell separation methods to render methods more easily available and less animal and cost consuming and parallel studies of astrocytic mRNA and protein expression by ISH/IHC and other methods are necessary, but new methods also need to be thoroughly checked.


BAC transgenic animals; GFAP; astrocyte culture; fluorescence-assisted cell sorting; immunohistochemistry; in situ hybridization

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