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J Anat. 2007 Jun;210(6):661-70. Epub 2007 Apr 25.

Morphological and physiological interactions of NG2-glia with astrocytes and neurons.

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Institute for Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences, School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Portsmouth, UK.


Models of central nervous system (CNS) function have historically been based on neurons and their synaptic contacts - the neuronal doctrine. This doctrine envisages glia as passive supportive cells. However, electrophysiological and imaging studies in brain slices show us that astrocytes, the most numerous cells in the brain, express a wide range of neurotransmitter receptors that are activated in response to synaptic activity. Furthermore, astrocytes communicate via calcium signals that are propagated over long distances by the release of 'gliotransmitters', the most abundant being adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This has led to the concept of the neuron-astroglial functional unit as the substrate of integration in the CNS. Recently, a novel glial cell type has been characterized by expression of the proteoglycan NG2. These NG2-glia receive presynaptic input from neurons and responds to neurotransmitters released at synapses. Now, studies on transgenic mice in which fluorescent proteins are specifically expressed by subclasses of glia are helping to address the question of where NG2-glia fit in the neuron-astroglial model of integrated brain function. NG2-glia, as well as astrocytes, have been shown to respond to neuronal and astroglial signals by raised intracellular calcium, which is a potential communications mechanism by which NG2-glia may be active partners in neuron-glial circuits. Moreover, a current concept of NG2-glia considers them to be 'neural stem cells' and an exciting prospect is that neuron-glial signalling may regulate the differentiation capacity of NG2-glia and their response to injury.

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