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Glia. 2005 Mar;49(4):480-91.

Sequence of oligodendrocyte development in the human fetal telencephalon.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT 06030-3401, USA.


Oligodendrocytes (OL), cells that myelinate axons in the CNS, differentiate from early to late oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPC) to become mature OL. Unlike the case in the rodent brain, myelin formation starts prenatally in the human brain, but the sequence of OL development and the onset of myelination are not well understood. We studied the human fetal forebrain at midgestation (17-23 gestational weeks, g.w.) using OL lineage-specific antibodies and mRNA probes. Early OPC were present in a gradient from the subventricular zone to the cortical plate. Their close apposition to radial glia fibers suggests a possible role of these fibers in OPC migration. Late OPC reached peak density in the subplate layer, whereas multipolar cells with the morphology of mature OL were restricted to the emerging white matter. At 20 g.w., myelinated axons were observed in the diencephalon, but not in the telencephalon, consistent with caudal-to-rostral progression of myelination. Interestingly, in organotypic slice cultures of the same gestational ages, the subventricular zone contained a considerably greater number of the mature OL cells, suggesting the presence of inhibitory signals in vivo. Overall, in addition to considerable similarities with rodents, important differences in temporal and spatial distribution and regulatory signals for OL differentiation exist in the human brain.

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