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The Specification of Neuronal Fate: A Common Precursor for Neurotransmitter Subtypes in the Rat Cerebral Cortex In Vitro


Magdalena Götz, SmithKline Beecham, New Frontiers Science Park North, Third Avenue, Harlow, Essex CM 19 5AW. UK


Neurotransmitter choice is a crucial step in neural development. In the cerebral cortex, pyramidal neurons use the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, whereas non-pyramidal cells use the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. We are interested in how these two neuronal types are generated. We labelled precursor cells from embryonic rat cerebral cortex with a retroviral vector in dissociated cell cultures, and examined the neurotransmitter phenotype of their progeny immunohistochemically after 2 weeks in vitro. We discovered, first, that precursor cells in culture generate glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons in proportions similar to those in vivo. Second, we found that neuronal precursor cells gave rise to both GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons. These results suggest that neuronal precursor cells in the cerebral cortex have the potential to generate both neuronal subtypes. Moreover, these data are consistent with a stochastic model of neurotransmitter specification.