An analysis of the early events when oligodendrocyte precursor cells are triggered to differentiate by thyroid hormone, retinoic acid, or PDGF withdrawal

Dev Biol. 1999 Sep 15;213(2):327-39. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1999.9397.


Oligodendrocyte precursor cells withdraw from the cell cycle and terminally differentiate after a limited number of cell divisions. The timing of cell-cycle withdrawal and differentiation is controlled by an intrinsic timer, which consists of a timing component that measures elapsed time and an effector component that arrests the cell cycle and initiates differentiation. The effector component can be triggered by either thyroid hormone (TH) or retinoic acid (RA). In this study we investigate how TH and RA act to trigger differentiation. We show the following: (1) Synthetic retinoids that can inhibit AP-1 transcription factors but do not activate gene transcription cannot trigger the effector mechanism, suggesting that TH and RA do not act only by inhibiting AP-1 activity as previously suggested. (2) Both TH and RA induce a transcriptionally dependent antigenic change in purified precursor cells within 2-4 h. (3) Unexpectedly, even before they differentiate, the precursor cells express ceramide galactosyltransferase (CGT), the enzyme that catalyzes the final step in the synthesis of galactocerebroside, an early marker of oligodendrocyte differentiation. (4) Neither TH nor RA directly activates the transcription of the CGT gene, a number of immediate early genes, or the genes that encode any of the known cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors. (5) The withdrawal of the mitogen platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), but not TH or RA treatment, causes a rapid decrease in c-fos, NGFI-A/Krox-24, and cyclin D2 mRNA, even though all three treatments trigger cell-cycle arrest and differentiation. (6) PDGF withdrawal and TH treatment, but not RA treatment, induce an increase in cyclin D3 mRNA within 4 h. Thus, we have not found any early changes in gene expression that occur with all three treatments that trigger oligodendrocyte differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / physiology
  • Cyclins / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Genes, Immediate-Early
  • Keratolytic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Oligodendroglia / cytology*
  • Oligodendroglia / physiology*
  • Platelet-Derived Growth Factor / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Thyroid Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*


  • Cyclins
  • Keratolytic Agents
  • Platelet-Derived Growth Factor
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Tretinoin
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases