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J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 1997 Jan;17(1):26-43.

Reactive astrocytosis from excitotoxic injury in hippocampal organ culture parallels that seen in vivo.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Reactive astrocytes influence not only the severity of brain injury, but also the capacity of brain to reshape itself with learning. Mechanisms responsible for astrogliosis remain unknown but might be best studied in vitro, where improved access and visualization permit application of modern molecular and cellular techniques. We have begun to explore whether gliosis might be studied in hippocampal organotypic cultures (HOTCs), where potential cell-to-cell interactions are preserved and the advantages of an in vitro preparation are still realized. Following HOTC exposure to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), dose-dependent changes occurred in the optical density (OD) values for the astrocytic immunohistochemical [immunostaining (IS)] markers glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and vimentin. Exposure of HOTCs to NMDA (10 microM) caused selective death in the CA1 hippocampal region and the dentate gyrus. It also significantly increased GFAP IS and vimentin IS OD values in these regions. Increased GFAP IS and vimentin IS OD values were also seen in CA3, a hippocampal region that displayed no cell death. Light microscopic examination revealed hypertrophied GFAP and vimentin IS cells, characteristic of reactive astrocytes. Cellular proliferation, as assessed by proliferating cell nuclear antigen IS, was also significantly increased in all three of these hippocampal regions. In contrast, exposure of HOTCs to a noninjurious level of NMDA (1 microM) caused only minor changes in GFAP IS and vimentin IS OD values but a significantly reduced cellular proliferation in all HOTC regions. These results show that reactive astrocytosis from excitotoxic injury of HOTC parallels changes seen in vivo after global ischemia. Furthermore, since resting astroglia within HOTCs are also similar to their counterparts in vivo, HOTCs may be used to examine mechanisms by which these cells are transformed into reactive species within tissue that resembles intact brain.

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