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Oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) have become the focus of intense research, not only because they generate myelin-forming oligodendrocytes in the normal CNS, but because they may be suitable for transplantation to treat disorders in which myelin does not form or is damaged, and because they have stem-cell-like properties in that they can generate astrocytes and neurons as well as oligodendrocytes. In this article we review the electrical signalling properties of OPCs, including the synaptic inputs they receive and their use of voltage-gated channels to generate action potentials, and we describe experiments attempting to detect output signalling from OPCs. We discuss controversy over the existence of different classes of OPC with different electrical signalling properties, and speculate on the lineage relationship and myelination potential of these different classes of OPC. Finally, we point out that, since OPCs are the main proliferating cell type in the mature brain, the discovery that they can develop into neurons raises the question of whether more neurons are generated in the mature brain from the classical sites of neurogenesis in the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricle and the hippocampal dentate gyrus or from the far more widely distributed OPCs.
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