Neuron-glial interactions in dendrite growth

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Interactions between neurons and glia occupy a central role in many aspects of development, maintenance, and function of the central nervous system (CNS). A fundamental event in CNS development is the elaboration of two distinct neuronal processes, axons and dendrites. The overall aim of this research was to characterize the interactions between central nervous system neurons and astroglial cells that regulate dendrite growth from cerebral cortical neurons. Embryonic (E18) mouse cerebral cortical neurons were cocultured with early postnatal (P4) rat astroglia derived from cerebral cortex, retina, olfactory bulb, mesencephalon, striatum and spinal cord. Axon and dendrite outgrowth from isolated neurons was quantified using morphological and double-labeling immunohistochemical techniques at 18 hours and 1, 3 and 5 days in vitro. Neurons initially extended the same number of neurites, regardless of the source of glial monolayer; however, astroglial cells differed in their ability to maintain primary dendrites. Homotypic cortical astroglia maintained the greatest number of primary dendrites. Astroglia derived from the olfactory bulb and retina maintained intermediate numbers of dendrites, whereas only a small number of primary dendrites were maintained by astroglia derived from striatum, spinal cord or mesencephalon. Initially longer axons were observed from neurons grown on astroglia that did not maintain dendrite number. After 5 days in vitro, axon growth was similar on the various monolayers, total primary dendrite outgrowth, however, was nearly threefold greater on astroglia derived from the cortex, retina and olfactory bulb than on astroglia derived from mesencephalon, striatum or spinal cord. This effect was principally on the number of primary dendrites rather than the elongation of individual dendrites and was independent of neuron survival. Similar morphological differences were observed after 5 days in vitro when cortical neurons were grown on polylysine in either a noncontact coculture system where astroglia continuously conditioned the culture medium or in astroglial conditioned medium. Preliminary biochemical analysis of the medium conditioned by cortical astroglia using heat and trypsin degradation, ultracentrifugation, dialysis, and heparin affinity chromatography suggested that a heparin binding protein with a molecular weight between 10 and 100kDa may be responsible for astroglial mediated dendrite growth. Neurons that were grown in medium conditioned by either mesencephalic or cortical astroglia for the first 24 hours followed by culture medium from astroglia of the alternate source for 4 days in vitro, confirmed that astroglia maintained, rather than initiated, the outgrowth of the primary dendritic arbor. In the next series of experiments, E18 mouse cortical neurons were cocultured with neonatal (P4) or mature (P12) rat astroglia derived from cortex and mesencephalon or astroglia derived from P4 and P12 lesioned cortex. After 5 days in vitro, the maturational age of astroglia did not appear to alter the extent of primary dendrite growth; instead dendrite growth reflected the region of the CNS from which the astroglia were derived. By contrast, a reduced ability to support axon growth from mouse cortical neurons in culture was observed on astroglia derived from mature rat cortex or mesencephalon. Reactive astroglia demonstrated similar neurite supporting characteristics to mature astroglia and were able to maintain dendrite growth, principally primary dendrite number. Axon elongation, however, was reduced on both neonatal and mature reactive astroglia. Neuron survival did not correlate with the ability of the various astroglia to support process outgrowth. Collectively these results indicate: 1) neuron-glial interactions are critical for the regulation of process outgrowth from embryonic cortical neurons in vitro, 2) axon and dendrite growth appear to be differently controlled by astroglia, 3) CNS astroglia demonstrate regional differences in maintaining, but not initiating growth of the primary dendritic arbor, 4) this effect may be due, in part, to release of a diffusible heparin binding protein factor, and 5) mature and reactive astroglia support primary dendrite, but limited axon growth. We propose therefore that the local astroglial environment maintains primary dendrite growth from neurons until synaptic contacts can be established. A mechanism that maintains the primary dendritic arbor and allows separate regulation of axon and dendrite growth, prior to the arrival of afferents, may be critical for establishing appropriate and specific synaptic connections. These findings have important implications in understanding development and function of the mammalian central nervous system and may lead to novel strategies for intervention in acute and chronic neurological disorders.