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J Neurosci Res. 1994 Sep 1;39(1):47-56.

Immortalization of immature and mature mouse astrocytes with SV40 T antigen.

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Department of Genetics, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-4944.


The ability of neonatal astrocytes to promote neurite outgrowth in vitro and in vivo diminishes as astrocytes mature. This property correlates with the developmental loss of the central nervous system's ability to regenerate after injury. Cell lines representative of immature and mature astrocytes would be useful for studies to determine differences between these two populations. Previous work on immortalization of bipotential neural/glial precursors and fully differentiated glial cells suggests that immortalization of astrocytes at timed intervals of culture may yield cell lines trapped in different maturation states. To test this, neonatal mouse cortical astrocytes were immortalized by retrovirus-mediated transfer of the SV40 T antigen (Tag) gene at 2, 6 and 17 days of culture. The clonal cell lines express Tag and are contact-inhibited. Three phenotypes that change as a function of astrocyte maturation were examined to determine the fidelity with which the cell lines represent immature and mature astrocytes. These were: (1) cell morphology, growth pattern and size, (2) level of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) expression, and (3) neurite outgrowth promotion. First, immature and mature lines resemble mortal type 1 astrocytes of corresponding ages with respect to morphology and growth pattern, and retain a quantitative difference in cell size (mature cells are larger). Second, the pattern of GFAP expression is preserved, with immature lines expressing lower levels than mature cell lines, but the overall GFAP levels are significantly lower in immortalized cell lines compared to mortal cells. Finally, promotion of neurite outgrowth from embryonic chick retinal ganglion cells on monolayers of the cell lines was examined. While all neurite outgrowth measures are significantly greater for the immortalized lines than for control 3T3 cells, they are attenuated relative to mortal astrocytes. The age-related pattern of stronger outgrowth support on immature astrocytes is retained for neurite initiation, but not retained for mean neurite length. Thus, SV40 Tag-immortalized astrocytes have a complex phenotype characterized by retention of age-related differences in morphology, growth pattern and cell size, and by a marked attenuation of some astrocyte-specific characteristics but retention of age-related differences in the expression level of these same characteristics, and finally, loss of the ability to support neurite extension at level characteristic of immature astrocytes.

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