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Pediatr Res. 2006 May;59(5):673-9.

Astrocyte end-feet in germinal matrix, cerebral cortex, and white matter in developing infants.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Westchester Medical Center, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York 10595, USA.


Astrocyte end-feet ensheathe blood vessels in the brain and are believed to provide structural integrity to the cerebral vasculature. We sought to determine in developing infants whether the coverage of blood vessels by astrocyte end-feet is decreased in germinal matrix (GM) compared with cerebral cortex and white matter (WM), which may cause fragility of the GM vasculature. Therefore, we evaluated the perivascular coverage by astrocyte end-feet in these areas. We double-labeled the brain sections with astroglial markers [glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), aquaporin-4 (AQP4), and S-100beta] and a vascular marker, laminin. Perivascular coverage by GFAP+ astrocyte end-feet increased consistently as a function of gestational age (GA) in cortex and WM from 19 to 40 wk. Compared with GFAP, AQP4+ astrocyte end-feet developed at an earlier GA, ensheathing about 63% of blood vessels for 23-40 wk in cortex, WM, and GM. Coverage by GFAP+ perivascular end-feet was decreased in GM compared with cortex and WM from 23 to 34 wk. There was no difference in the coverage by AQP4+ end-feet among the three areas in these infants. The expression of AQP4, a water channel molecule, in the astrocyte end-feet was not significantly different between premature and mature infants, suggesting similar risk of brain edema in preterm and term infants in pathologic conditions. More importantly, the lesser degree of GFAP expression in astrocyte end-feet of GM compared with cortex and WM may reflect a cytoskeletal structural difference that contributes to the fragility of GM vasculature and propensity to hemorrhage.

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