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J Neurosci. 2010 Jun 16;30(24):8320-31. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0854-10.2010.

The fate of synaptic input to NG2 glial cells: neurons specifically downregulate transmitter release onto differentiating oligodendroglial cells.

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Department of Neurosurgery, University Clinic Bonn, D-53105 Bonn, Germany.


NG2-expressing oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) are ubiquitous and generate oligodendrocytes throughout the young and adult brain. Previous work has shown that virtually every NG2 cell receives synaptic input from many axons, but the meaning of this signaling is not understood. In particular, it is unclear whether neurons specifically synapse onto OPCs or whether OPCs merely trace adjacent neurotransmitter release sites and are not recognized by the presynaptic neuron. Here, we show with whole-cell recordings from distinct developmental stages of oligodendroglial cells in brain slices that synaptic input essentially disappears as soon as OPCs differentiate into premyelinating oligodendrocytes (NG2(-), DM20/PLP(+), O1(+)). Uncaging experiments and tracer loading revealed that premyelinating oligodendrocytes still express a substantial number of AMPA/kainate receptors and many processes, but spontaneous and stimulated synaptic currents are mostly absent. Nevertheless, in a minority of premyelinating cells, electrical stimulation evoked small synaptic currents with an unusual behavior: their amplitude compared well with the quantal amplitude in OPCs but they occurred asynchronously and with the remarkable latency of 40-100 ms, indicating that the presynaptic release machinery has become ineffective. Mature myelinating oligodendrocytes completely lack AMPA/kainate receptors and respond to uncaging and synaptic stimulation with glutamate transporter currents. Our data show that neurons selectively synapse onto only one of several coexisting developmental stages of glial cells and thereby indicate that neurons indeed specifically signal to OPCs and are able to modulate transmitter output by regulating the local release machinery in a manner specific to the developmental stage of the postsynaptic glial cell.

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