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Broad interest in the rapidly advancing field of microglial involvement in forming neural circuits is evident from the fresh findings published in leading journals. This special issue of Neuron Glia Biology contains a special collection of research articles and reviews concerning the new appreciation of microglial function in the normal physiology of the brain that extends beyond their traditionally understood role in pathology.
Glutamate toxicity from hypoxia-ischaemia during the perinatal period causes white matter injury that can result in long-term motor and intellectual disability. Blocking ionotropic glutamate receptors (GluRs) has been shown to inhibit oligodendrocyte injury in vitro, but GluR antagonists have not yet proven helpful in clinical studies. The opposite approach of activating GluRs on developing oligodendrocytes shows promise in experimental studies on rodents as reported by Jartzie et al., in this issue. Group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) are expressed transiently on developing oligodendrocytes in humans during the perinatal period, and the blood–brain-barrier permeable agonist of group I mGluRs, 1-aminocyclopentane-trans-1,3-dicarboxylic acid (ACPD), reduces white matter damage significantly in a rat model of perinatal hypoxia-ischaemia. The results suggest drugs activating this class of GluRs could provide a new therapeutic approach for preventing cerebral palsy and other neurological consequences of diffuse white matter injury in premature infants.
There is no question about the fact that astrocytes and other glial cells release neurotransmitters that activate receptors on neurons, glia and vascular cells, and that calcium is an important second messenger regulating the release. This occurs in cell culture, tissue slice and in vivo. Negative results from informative experiments designed to test the mechanism of calcium-dependent neurotransmitter release from astrocytes and the ensuing effects on synaptic transmission, have been cited as evidence calling into question whether astrocytes release neurotransmitters under normal circumstances with effects on synaptic transmission. The special feature section in this issue of Neuron Glia Biology addresses these issues and other aspects of neurotransmitter release from astrocytes in communicating with neurons and glial cells. Together these studies suggest that application of vocabulary and concepts developed for synaptic communication between neurons can lead to confusion and apparent paradoxes with respect to communication by extracellular signaling molecules released from glia in response to functional activity.
Activity-dependent signaling between neurons and astrocytes contributes to experience-dependent plasticity and development of the nervous system. However, mechanisms responsible for neuron–glial interactions and the releasable factors that underlie these processes are not well understood. The pro-inflammatory cytokine, leukemia-inhibitory factor (LIF), is transiently expressed postnatally by glial cells in the hippocampus and rapidly up-regulated by enhanced neural activity following seizures. To test the hypothesis that spontaneous neural activity regulates glial development in hippocampus via LIF signaling, we blocked spontaneous activity with the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin (TTX) in mixed hippocampal cell cultures in combination with blockers of LIF and purinergic signaling. TTX decreased the number of GFAP-expressing astrocytes in hippocampal cell culture. Furthermore, blocking purinergic signaling by P2Y receptors contributed to reduced numbers of astrocytes. Blocking activity or purinergic signaling in the presence of function-blocking antibodies to LIF did not further decrease the number of astrocytes. Moreover, hippocampal cell cultures prepared from LIF −/− mice had reduced numbers of astrocytes and activity-dependent neuron–glial signaling promoting differentiation of astrocytes was absent. The results show that endogenous LIF is required for normal development of hippocampal astrocytes, and this process is regulated by spontaneous neural impulse activity through the release of ATP.
Recent advances in the field of neuron–glia interactions were presented at the 27th International Symposium of the University of Montreal Center de Recherche en Sciences Neruologiques. Topics included synaptogenesis, regulation of synaptic strength by glia at the neuromuscular junction and hippocampus; myelin formation, structure, and maintenance; involvement of glia in nervous-system response to injury, hypoxia, and ischemia; neurogenesis and apoptosis, and microglial involvement in chronic pain.
cDNA microarrays were utilized to identify abnormally expressed genes in a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST)-derived cell line, T265, by comparing the mRNA abundance profiles with that of normal human Schwann cells (nhSCs). The findings characterize the molecular phenotype of this important cell-line model of MPNSTs, and elucidate the contribution of Schwann cells in MPNSTs. In total, 4608 cDNA sequences were screened and hybridizations replicated on custom cDNA microarrays. In order to verify the microarray data, a large selection of differentially expressed mRNA transcripts were subjected to semi-quantitative reverse transcription PCR (LightCycler). Western blotting was performed to investigate a selection of genes and signal transduction pathways, as a further validation of the microarray data. The data generated from multiple microarray screens, semi-quantitative RT–PCR and Western blotting are in broad agreement. This study represents a comprehensive gene-expression analysis of an MPNST-derived cell line and the first comprehensive global mRNA profile of nhSCs in culture. This study has identified ∼900 genes that are expressed abnormally in the T265 cell line and detected many genes not previously reported to be expressed in nhSCs. The results provide crucial information on the T265 cells that is essential for investigation using this cell line in experimental studies in neurofibromatosis type I (NF1), and important information on normal human Schwann cells that is applicable to a wide range of studies on Schwann cells in cell culture.
Standard neurobiology textbooks commonly do not contain a chapter on cancer, and the word might not even appear in the
index. Its absence cannot be explained simply on the grounds that the subject falls more appropriately within the clinical
realm, because you will find chapters devoted to various other nervous system diseases. Could this intellectual blind spot
result from the fact that mature neurons, being post-mitotic, do not succumb to the disease? This absence in most texts is
curious, considering the severe functional implications. The word is sometimes used metaphorically to connote an unstoppable
process of destruction, and indeed some forms of brain cancer present the most dire prognosis of any cancer. But more
importantly the neglect of this subject is curious, because on a molecular and cellular level, cancer is the result of biological
processes that are at the forefront of modern neurobiological research. These include such current hot-topic areas as intraand
inter-cellular signaling networks, regulation of gene transcription, control of cellular differentiation, regulation of cell
motility, migration and cell death; the secretion and response to growth factors, and interactions with the vascular and
immune systems. Finally, the current enthusiasm and promising research on the use of stem cells for therapeutic treatment
of nervous system disease has brought us face-to-face with our ignorance in this area, as we find that many types of stem cells
transplanted into the brain form tumors. This issue of Neuron Glia Biology contains a special collection of original research
papers on cancer in the peripheral and central nervous system and a review on the subject. These papers are introduced below
by Special Feature Editor, Philip Lee.
In footnote 21 of a groundbreaking paper on astrocyte
communication published in Science in 1990, there is a prediction.
The authors, Cornell-Bell et al., showed calcium waves
propagating widely through monocultures of astrocytes in
response to glutamate application. But in the footnote, they
cautioned that their observations could be considered in some
respects an experimental artifact. The authors believed that
instead of the promiscuous propagation of calcium waves
spreading throughout the entire population of astrocytes
in culture, that in the brain, the communication would be far
more discrete and more interesting.
“Of what use a newborn babe?” was Oersted's response to
a question from the audience as to the value of electromagnetism
following his demonstration that a compass needle
could be deflected by passing current through a nearby wire.
Such is the immediate reaction anytime something new is
encountered: What is it, and why do we need it? This perplexity
arises from the certain conclusion of a proof derived from the
objective facts: we seem to have managed quite well up to now
without it. But as functional as a world before cell phones and
email seemed, how dysfunctional would the world now appear
without them? Time changes, and Science is change. Scientific
journals track and pioneer those changes.
Nonsynaptic release of ATP from electrically stimulated dorsal root gangion (DRG) axons inhibits Schwann cell (SC) proliferation and arrests SC development at the premyelinating stage, but the specific types of purinergic receptor(s) and intracellular signaling pathways involved in this form of neuron–glia communication are not known. Recent research shows that adenosine is a neuron–glial transmitter between axons and myelinating glia of the CNS. The present study investigates the possibility that adenosine might have a similar function in communicating between axons and premyelinating SCs. Using a combination of pharmacological and molecular approaches, we found that mouse SCs in culture express functional adenosine receptors and ATP receptors, a far more complex array of purinergic receptors than thought previously. Adenosine, but not ATP, activates ERK/MAPK through stimulation of cAMP-linked A2A adenosine receptors. Both ATP and adenosine inhibit proliferation of SCs induced by platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), via mechanisms that are partly independent. In contrast to ATP, adenosine failed to inhibit the differentiation of SCs to the O4+ stage. This indicates that, in addition to ATP, adenosine is an activity-dependent signaling molecule between axons and premyelinating Schwann cells, but that electrical activity, acting through adenosine, has opposite effects on the differentiation of myelinating glia in the PNS and CNS.
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