• insulin;
  • neural precursor cells;
  • embryonic mesencephalon;
  • neuronal maturation;
  • proliferation


Growth factors are key elements in the process of neural cell differentiation. We examined the effects of classical mitogens on neural precursor cells, by culturing mouse cells of the embryonic (13.5 days postcoitum) mesencephalon and treating them with epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), nerve growth factor (NGF), and transforming growth factor-β (TGF- β). Our initial results show that EGF, TGF-α or bFGF, but not NGF or TGF-β, induced general proliferation of the cultured cells, followed by formation of colonies. Combinations of these three growth factors suggest that most cells with the capacity to form colonies responded to EGF, TGF-α, or bFGF. The number of colonies increased significantly when EGF, but not TGF-α, was used in combination with bFGF. Furthermore, a population responding only to EGF + bFGF was detected in the dorsal mesencephalon. The colony-forming activity of bFGF was dependent on insulin, but bFGF and insulin cooperation was indirect since we could not observe colony formation in subcultures of cells derived from colonies, even in the presence of insulin. Cells obtained from our colonies displayed neuronal and glial morphology and expressed markers of both neurons and astrocytes; nestin, a marker of neural precursor cells was also expressed in the majority of colonies. Growth factors also influenced neuronal maturation; the best neurite outgrowth was obtained from cells derived from bFGF-induced colonies cultured in the presence of EGF + bFGF. These data indicate the existence of neural precursor cells in the embryonic mesencephalon that respond differentially to growth factors. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.