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Glia. 1997 Oct;21(2):244-52.

Astrocyte spreading in response to thrombin and lysophosphatidic acid is dependent on the Rho GTPase.

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Friedrich Miescher-Institut, Basel, Switzerland.


Astrocytes are typically star shaped cells playing diverse roles in the function of the nervous system. In astrocyte cultures established from the cerebral hemispheres of newborn rats, the cells have generally a polygonal fibroblast-like morphology, but acquire a stellate shape upon serum removal. When the serine protease thrombin or the bioactive lipid lysophosphatidic acid is added, the stellate cells revert to the flat morphology. Here we show that the effect of these agents is mediated via activation of the small GTP-binding protein Rho. Neither thrombin nor lysophosphatidic acid induced spreading of astrocytes microinjected with C3 transferase, an exoenzyme which ADP-ribosylates and thereby inactivates Rho. In contrast, the response of cells injected with a dominant negative form of Rac was unaffected. In addition, the injection of active Rho into stellate astrocytes mimicked the effect of thrombin and lysophosphatidic acid and an injection of C3 into flat cells grown in serum induced stellation. The conversion from a stellate to a spread morphology upon activation of Rho resulted in the formation of stress fibers and focal adhesions which most probably are key events in establishing and stabilizing the altered cytoarchitecture. These results suggest that Rho plays a crucial role in determining the shape of astrocytes and thereby may modulate their interaction with neurons in vivo.

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