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J Neurosci. 1996 Aug 15;16(16):5095-105.

Oligodendroglia regulate the regional expansion of axon caliber and local accumulation of neurofilaments during development independently of myelin formation.

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Laboratory for Molecular Neuroscience, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts 02178, USA.


Axon caliber may be influenced by intrinsic neuronal factors and extrinsic factors related to myelination. To understand these extrinsic influences, we studied how axon-caliber expansion is related to changes in neurofilament and microtubule organization as axons of retinal ganglion cells interact with oligodendroglia and become myelinated during normal mouse brain development. Caliber expanded and neurofilaments accumulated only along regions of the axon invested with oligodendroglia. Very proximal portions of axons within a region of the optic nerve from which oligodendrocytes are excluded remained unchanged. More distally, these axons rapidly expanded an average of fourfold as soon as they were recruited to become myelinated between postnatal days 9 and 120. Unmyelinated axons remained unchanged. Axons ensheathed by oligodendroglial processes, but not yet myelinated, were intermediate in caliber and neurofilament number. That oligodendrocytes can trigger regional caliber expansion in the absence of myelin was confirmed using three strains of mice with different mutations that prevent myelin formation but allow wrapping of some axons by oligodendroglial processes. Unmyelinated axons persistently wrapped by oligodendrocytes showed full axon caliber expansion, neurofilament accumulation, and appropriately increased lateral spacing between neurofilaments. Thus, signals from oligodendrocytes, independent of myelin formation, are sufficient to induce full axon radial growth primarily by triggering local accumulation and reorganization of the neurofilament network.

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