Differentiation of radial glia from radial precursor cells and transformation into astrocytes in the developing rat spinal cord



Radial glial cell origins and functions have been studied extensively in the brain; however, questions remain relating to their origin and fate in the spinal cord. In the present study, radial glia are investigated in vivo using the neuroepithelial markers nestin and vimentin and the gliogenic markers GLAST, BLBP, 3CB2, and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). This has revealed heterogeneity among nestin/vimentin-positive precursor cells and suggests a lineage progression from neuroepithelial cell through to astrocyte in the developing spinal cord. A population of self-renewing radial cells, distinct from an earlier pseudo-stratified neuroepithelium, that resemble radial glial cells in morphology but do not express GLAST, BLBP, or 3CB2, is revealed. These radial cells arise directly from the spinal cord neuroepithelium and are probably the progenitors of neurons and the earliest appearing radial glial cells. GLAST/BLBP-positive radial glia first appear in the ventral cord at E14, and these cells gradually transform through one or more intermediate stages into differentiated astrocytes. Few if any neurons appear to be derived from radial glial cells, which are instead the major sources of astrocytes in the spinal cord. Evidence for the nonradial glial cell origins of some white matter astrocytes is also presented. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.