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Glial Cells as Progenitors and Stem Cells: New Roles in the Healthy and Diseased Brain

Physiol Rev. 2014 Jul;94(3):709-737.

Authors/Editors: Dimou L, Götz M.
Publication Date: 2014

2014_07_dimou

Abstract

The diverse functions of glial cells prompt the question to which extent specific subtypes may be devoted to a specific function. We discuss this by reviewing one of the most recently discovered roles of glial cells, their function as neural stem cells (NSCs) and progenitor cells. First we give an overview of glial stem and progenitor cells during development; these are the radial glial cells that act as NSCs and other glial progenitors, highlighting the distinction between the lineage of cells in vivo and their potential when exposed to a different environment, e.g., in vitro. We then proceed to the adult stage and discuss the glial cells that continue to act as NSCs across vertebrates and others that are more lineage-restricted, such as the adult NG2-glia, the most frequent progenitor type in the adult mammalian brain, that remain within the oligodendrocyte lineage. Upon certain injury conditions, a distinct subset of quiescent astrocytes reactivates proliferation and a larger potential, clearly demonstrating the concept of heterogeneity with distinct subtypes of, e.g., astrocytes or NG2-glia performing rather different roles after brain injury. These new insights not only highlight the importance of glial cells for brain repair but also their great potential in various aspects of regeneration.

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