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Int Rev Cytol. 2005;247:89-164.

Hypothalamic tanycytes: a key component of brain-endocrine interaction.

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Instituto de Histología y Patología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Austral de Chile, 5678 Valdivia, Chile.


Tanycytes are bipolar cells bridging the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to the portal capillaries and may link the CSF to neuroendocrine events. During the perinatal period a subpopulation of radial glial cells differentiates into tanycytes, a cell lineage sharing some properties with astrocytes and the radial glia, but displaying unique and distinct morphological, molecular, and functional characteristics. Four populations of tanycytes, alpha(1,2) and beta(1,2), can be distinguished. These subtypes express differentially important functional molecules, such as glucose and glutamate transporters; a series of receptors for neuropeptide and peripheral hormones; secretory molecules such as transforming growth factors, prostaglandin E(2), and the specific protein P85; and proteins of the endocytic pathways. This results in functional differences between the four subtypes of tanycytes. Thus, alpha(1,2) tanycytes do not have barrier properties, whereas beta(1,2) tanycytes do. Different types of tanycytes use different mechanisms to internalize and transport cargo molecules; compounds internalized via a clathrin-dependent endocytosis would only enter tanycytes from the CSF. There are also differences in the neuron-tanycyte relationships; beta(1,2) tanycytes are innervated by peptidergic and aminergic neurons, but alpha(1,2) tanycytes are not. Important aspects of the neuron-beta(1) tanycyte relationships have been elucidated. Tanycytes can participate in the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to the portal blood by expressing estrogen receptors, absorbing molecules from the CSF, and providing signal(s) to the GnRH neurons. Removal of tanycytes prevents the pulse of GnRH release into the portal blood, the peak of luteinizing hormone, and ovulation. The discovery in tanycytes of new functional molecules is opening a new field of research. Thus, thyroxine deiodinase type II, an enzyme generating triiodothyronine (T(3)) from thyroxine, appears to be exclusively expressed by tanycytes, suggesting that these cells are the main source of brain T(3). Glucose transporter-2 (GLUT-2), a low-affinity transporter of glucose and fructose, and ATP-sensitive K(+) channels are expressed by tanycytes, suggesting that they may sense CSF glucose concentrations.

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