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Neuron Glia Biol. 2006 Aug;2(3):175-86.

Astroglial heterogeneity closely reflects the neuronal-defined anatomy of the adult murine CNS.

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MGH-HMS Center for Nervous System Repair, Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology, and Program in Neuroscience, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard University, Boston, USA.


Astroglia comprise an extremely morphologically diverse cell type that have crucial roles in neural development and function. Nonetheless, distinct regions of the CNS have traditionally been defined by the phenotypic characteristics and connectivity of neuros. In a complementary fashion, we present evidence that discrete regions of the adult CNS can be delineated based solely on the morphology, density and proliferation rates of astroglia. We used transgenic hGFAP-GFP mice in which robust expression of GFP in adult astroglia enables detailed morphological characterization of this diversely heterogeneous cell population with 3D confocal microscopy. By using three complementary methods for labeling adult astroglia (hGFAP-GFP expression, and GFAP and S100beta immunostaining), we find that there is a remarkably diverse, regionally stereotypical array of astroglial morphology throughout the CNS, and that discrete anatomical regions can be defined solely on the morphology of astroglia within that region. Second, we find that the density of astroglia varies dramatically across the CNS, and that astroglial density effectively delineates even the sub-regions of complex structures, such as the thalamus. We also find that regional astroglial density varies depending on how astroglia are labeled. To quantify and illustrate these broad differences in astroglial density, we generated an anatomical density atlas of the CNS. Third, the proliferation rate, or mitotic index, of astroglia in the adult CNS also effectively defines anatomical regions. These differences are present regardless of the astroglial-labeling method used. To supplement our atlas of astroglial density we generated an atlas of proliferation density for the adult CNS. Together, these studies demonstrate that the morphology, density and proliferation rate of astroglia can independently define the discrete cytoarchitecture of the adult mammalian CNS, and support the concept that regional astroglial heterogeneity reflects important molecular and functional differences between distinct classes of astroglia, much like the long-accepted heterogeneity of neuronal populations.

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