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Curr Biol. 1993 Aug 1;3(8):489-97.

Does oligodendrocyte survival depend on axons?

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Medical Research Council Developmental Neurobiology Programme, Department of Biology, Medawar Building, University College, London WC1E 6BT, UK.



We have shown previously that oligodendrocytes and their precursors require signals from other cells in order to survive in culture. In addition, we have shown that about 50% of the oligodendrocytes produced in the developing rat optic nerve normally die, apparently in a competition for the limiting amounts of survival factors. We have hypothesized that axons may control the levels of such oligodendrocyte survival factors and that the competition-dependent death of oligodendrocytes serves to match their numbers to the number of axons that they myelinate. Here we test one prediction of this hypothesis - that the survival of developing oligodendrocytes depends on axons.


We show that oligodendrocyte death occurs selectively in transected nerves in which the axons degenerate. This cell death is prevented by the delivery of exogenous ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) or insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1), both of which have been shown to promote oligodendrocyte survival in vitro. We also show that purified neurons promote the survival of purified oligodendrocytes in vitro.


These results strongly suggest that oligodendrocyte survival depends upon the presence of axons; they also support the hypothesis that a competition for axon-dependent survival signals normally helps adjust the number of oligodendrocytes to the number of axons that require myelination. The identities of these signals remain to be determined.


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