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J Cell Biol. 2000 Mar 6;148(5):971-84.

Long-term culture of purified postnatal oligodendrocyte precursor cells. Evidence for an intrinsic maturation program that plays out over months.

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MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology and the Biology Department, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom.


Oligodendrocytes myelinate axons in the vertebrate central nervous system (CNS). They develop from precursor cells (OPCs), some of which persist in the adult CNS. Adult OPCs differ in many of their properties from OPCs in the developing CNS. In this study we have purified OPCs from postnatal rat optic nerve and cultured them in serum-free medium containing platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), the main mitogen for OPCs, but in the absence of thyroid hormone in order to inhibit their differentiation into oligodendrocytes. We find that many of the cells continue to proliferate for more than a year and progressively acquire a number of the characteristics of OPCs isolated from adult optic nerve. These findings suggest that OPCs have an intrinsic maturation program that progressively changes the cell's phenotype over many months. When we culture the postnatal OPCs in the same conditions but with the addition of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), the cells acquire these mature characteristics much more slowly, suggesting that the combination of bFGF and PDGF, previously shown to inhibit OPC differentiation, also inhibits OPC maturation. The challenge now is to determine the molecular basis of such a protracted maturation program and how the program is restrained by bFGF.

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