Astrocytes and NG2-glia: what's in a name?


Dr Akiko Nishiyama, Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, University of Connecticut, 3107 Horsebarn Hill Road, Storrs, CT 06269-4156, USA. T: +1 860 486 4561; F: +1 860 486 3303; E:


Classic studies recognize two functionally segregated macroglial cell types in the central nervous system (CNS), namely astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. A third macroglial cell type has now been identified by its specific expression of the NG2 chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan (NG2-glia). These NG2-glia exist abundantly in both grey and white matter of the mature CNS and are almost as numerous as astrocytes. It is well established that NG2-glia give rise to oligodendrocytes. However, the majority of NG2-glia in the adult CNS proliferate very slowly and are non-motile. Both astrocytes and NG2-glia display a stellate morphology and express ion channels and receptors to neurotransmitters used by neurons. Both types of glia make intimate contacts with neurons in grey and white matter, and their functional differences and similarities are only beginning to be unravelled. Recent observations emphasize the need to examine the relationship between astrocytes and NG2-glia, and address the question of whether they represent overlapping or two distinct glial cell populations. To be of any relevance, this classification must relate to specific functions in the neural network. At present, the balance of evidence is that NG2-glia and astrocytes are functionally segregated populations.