Oligodendrocytes, the myelinating cells of the central nervous system (CNS), are generated during development through the proliferation and differentiation of a distinct progenitor population. Not all oligodendrocyte progenitors generated during development differentiate, however, and large numbers of oligodendrocyte progenitors are present in the adult CNS, particularly in white matter. These "adult progenitors" can be identified through expression of the NG2 proteoglycan. Adult oligodendrocyte progenitors are thought to develop from the original pool of progenitors and in vitro are capable of differentiating into oligodendrocytes. Why these cells fail to differentiate in the intact CNS is currently unclear. Here we show that contact with CNS myelin inhibits the maturation of immature oligodendrocyte progenitors. The inhibition of oligodendrocyte progenitor maturation is a characteristic of CNS myelin that is not shared by several other membrane preparations including adult and neonatal neural membrane fractions, PNS myelin, or liver. This inhibition is concentration dependent, is reversible, and appears not to be mediated by either myelin basic protein or basic fibroblast growth factor. Myelin-induced inhibition of oligodendrocyte progenitor maturation provides a mechanism to explain the generation of a residual pool of immature oligodendrocyte progenitors in the mature CNS.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.