Cells that express the NG2 proteoglycan (NG2+ cells) constitute a large cell population in the adult mammalian central nervous system (CNS). They give rise to mature oligodendrocytes in culture and are thus considered to be oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). They proliferate in response to a variety of insults to the CNS, but their ability to differentiate into oligodendrocytes in vivo has not been established. We used bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) to trace the fate of NG2+ cells that proliferated in response to a chemically induced demyelinating lesion in the adult rat spinal cord. Cells that were proliferating. 24 hr after lesioning were labeled by a single injection of BrdU, and their antigenic phenotype was examined at various times up to 28 days post-lesioning (28 dpl). Initially, at 2 dpl, NG2+/BrdU+ cells were found almost exclusively at the periphery of the lesion. At 7 dpl, the number of NG2+/BrdU+ cells increased in the lesion center and decreased from the surrounding areas. The number of NG2+/BrdU+ cells inside the lesion further decreased with time, concomitant with progression of remyelination and appearance of BrdU+ mature oligodendrocytes. Double labeling with 3H-thymidine and BrdU combined with NG2 immunohistochemistry showed that some NG2+ cells in the lesion had undergone at least two rounds of cell division. These observations strongly suggest that NG2+/BrdU+ cells that appeared in response to the demyelinating insult gave rise to mature remyelinating oligodendrocytes, providing an in vivo evidence for the differentiation of NG2+ cells into oligodendrocytes.
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