Oligodendrocyte precursor cells that develop into myelin‐forming cells of the central nervous system (CNS) were cultured from newborn rat brain to study how they proliferate and differentiate in normal conditioning medium, and their cell development was characterized by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) observation and immunocytochemical studies. We have identified A2B5‐negative pre‐O2A progenitor cells (so‐called “type‐1” oligodendrocytes) in the secondary cultures on the astrocyte feeder layer. These cells are very small (diameter: 3.5 μm), round, and glossy, and develop into the process‐bearing O2A progenitor cells (called “type‐2” oligodendrocytes), which also express myelin basic protein (MBP) both in the cell body and in their cell processes. Finally, they develop into mature oligodendrocytes (called “type‐3” oligodendrocytes). After MBP expression is elicited in these cells and MBP accumulates in the cell process in the area in contact with the axon, these cells are capable of forming the myelin sheath. Therefore, we examined the mechanism of myelin‐sheath formation of “type‐3” oligodendrocytes using video time‐lapse movies, and demonstrated that these cells initially sent out processes to search for axons several times before the onset of myelination. Then thick filopodia extended towards the axon, and at the same time, the axonal part of neuron moved forward. Finally the ruffling lamellipodial parts wrapped up the axon similarly to a transverse wave with the secured thick filopodial process on the axon acting as scaffolding. These results suggest that our experimental systems are useful in studying normal oligodendrocyte development and their cellular biochemistry, as well as investigating the mechanism of myelin formation by oligodendrocytes. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
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