The development and differentiation of bipotential glial precursor cells has been studied extensively in tissue culture, but little is known about the distribution and fate of these cells within intact animals. To analyze the development of glial progenitor cells in the developing rat cerebellum, we utilized immunofluorescent, immunocytochemical, and autoradiographic techniques. Glial progenitor cells were identified with antibodies against the NG2 chondroitin-sulfate proteoglycan, a cell-surface antigen of 02A progenitor cells in vitro, and the distribution of this marker antigen was compared to that of marker antigens that identify immature astrocytes, mature astrocytes, oligodendrocyte precursors, and mature oligodendrocytes.
Cells expressing the NG2 antigen appeared in the cerebellum during the last 3-4 days of embryonic life. Over the first 10 days of postnatal life, the NG2-labeled cells incorporated 3H-thymidine into their nuclei and their total number increased. At all ages examined, the NG2-labeled cells did not contain either vimentin-like or glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-like immunoreactivity, suggesting that they do not develop along an astrocytic pathway. NG2-labeled cells of embryonic animals expressed GD3 ganglioside antigens, a property of oligodendrocyte precursors, whereas NG2-positive cells of postnatal animals did not express GD3 immunoreactivity. Nevertheless, the NG2-labeled cells of the nascent white matter expressed oligodendrocyte-specific marker antigens. Cells lyingoutside of the white matter continued to express the NG2 antigen. In adult animals, the NG2-labeled cells incorporated 3H-thymidine. Glial cells isolated from adult animals and grown in tissue culture express the NG2 antigen and display the phenotypic plasticity characteristic of 02A progenitor cells. These findings demonstrate that a population of glial progenitor cells is extensive within both young and adult animals.