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Glia. 2015 Aug;63(8):1452-68. doi: 10.1002/glia.22850. Epub 2015 May 12.

Reactive astrocytes as neural stem or progenitor cells: In vivo lineage, In vitro potential, and Genome-wide expression analysis.

Götz M1,2,3, Sirko S1,2, Beckers J4,5,6, Irmler M4.

Author information

Physiological Genomics, Biomedical Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Munich, Germany.
Institute of Stem Cell Research, Helmholtz Center Munich, Munich, Germany.
SYNERGY, Excellence Cluster of Systemic Neurology, LMU, Munich, Germany.
Institute of Experimental Genetics, Helmholtz Center Munich, Munich, Germany.
Department of Experimental Genetics, Technical University Munich, Freising-Weihenstephan, Germany.
German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), Neuherberg, Germany.


Here, we review the stem cell hallmarks of endogenous neural stem cells (NSCs) during development and in some niches of the adult mammalian brain to then compare these with reactive astrocytes acquiring stem cell hallmarks after traumatic and ischemic brain injury. Notably, even endogenous NSCs including the earliest NSCs, the neuroepithelial cells, generate in most cases only a single type of progeny and self-renew only for a rather short time in vivo. In vitro, however, especially cells cultured under neurosphere conditions reveal a larger potential and long-term self-renewal under the influence of growth factors. This is rather well comparable to reactive astrocytes in the traumatic or ischemic brain some of which acquire neurosphere-forming capacity including multipotency and long-term self-renewal in vitro, while they remain within their astrocyte lineage in vivo. Both reactive astrocytes and endogenous NSCs exhibit stem cell hallmarks largely in vitro, but their lineage differs in vivo. Both populations generate largely a single cell type in vivo, but endogenous NSCs generate neurons and reactive astrocytes remain in the astrocyte lineage. However, at some early postnatal stages or in some brain regions reactive astrocytes can be released from this fate restriction, demonstrating that they can also enact neurogenesis. Thus, reactive astrocytes and NSCs share many characteristic hallmarks, but also exhibit key differences. This conclusion is further substantiated by genome-wide expression analysis comparing NSCs at different stages with astrocytes from the intact and injured brain parenchyma.


brain injury; lineage; potential; radial glial cells; self-renewal; transcriptome

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