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J Comp Neurol. 2003 Mar 31;458(2):175-94.

Olfactory ensheathing cells: time lapse imaging of cellular interactions, axonal support, rapid morphologic shifts, and mitosis.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) have considerable potential for facilitating axonal growth across regions of spinal cord and brain injury but in this context have been studied primarily in static images of fixed tissue from the olfactory system or after transplantation. In the present work, we studied the behavior of live OECs, and their interactions with neurons, Schwann cells, and astrocytes by using cells that express the reporter gene coding for green fluorescent protein (GFP); the work is based on combinations of fluorescence, phase contrast, digital time lapse imaging, and P75 immunocytochemical identification. Cultures, explants, and regions of olfactory system slices rich in OECs enhanced axonal growth of cerebellar granule cells or hippocampal neurons; axons grew parallel to the long axis of fusiform OECs. Neuron cell bodies and axons preferred OECs over artificial substrates. Axons and neuron cell bodies can take active or passive roles in extension and migration on underlying motile OECs and move from one OEC to another. Axon extension was facilitated to a similar degree by OECs and Schwann cells, whereas astrocytes were more likely to integrate with existing OECs than with Schwann cells. OECs showed a dramatic ability to rapidly change shape, size, and direction of migration and to undergo mitosis. Mitosis was characterized by a quick retraction of all processes, thereby forming a sphere that divided into spherical daughter cells within minutes. Progeny OECs might take on the parental or a non-parental morphotype, with both daughter cells showing robust expression of GFP. Together these OEC data demonstrated a substantial plasticity and capability for relatively rapid changes in structure and support the view that OECs have multiple attributes favorable for enhancing axonal extension and neuronal migration after central nervous system injury.

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