Classically, the central nervous system (CNS) was considered to contain neurons and three main types of glial cells - astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and microglia. Now, it has been clearly established that NG2-glia are a fourth glial cell type that are defined by their expression of the NG2 chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (Cspg4). NG2-glia are also known as oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) and express the alpha receptor for platelet-derived growth factor (Pdgfra) as well as other oligodendrocyte lineage markers. NG2-glia are most numerous during CNS development when they are responsible for massive generation of oligodendrocytes, the myelin-forming cells of the CNS. A significant population of NG2-glia persist in the adult CNS, where they generate oligodendrocytes throughout life. A unique feature of NG2-glia is that they receive synaptic inputs from neurons and are able to respond rapidly to neurotransmission via their specific ion channel and receptor profiles. Moreover, synaptic and neuronal integrity depend on NG2-glia. Notably, concomitant disruption of NG2-glia, myelin and neurotransmission are key features of many neuropathologies, including Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The fact that neurotransmission both regulates and is reliant on NG2-glia and myelin raises the ‘chicken and egg’ question of what comes first – disruption of NG2-glia/myelin or synapses/neurons. It is more useful to think of neurons, NG2-glia and oligodendrocytes/myelin as being functionally integrated and interdependent units, whereby disruption of any one can result in a vicious cycle with potentially devastating effects on CNS function.
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