The timing of oligodendrocyte differentiation is thought to depend on both intracellular mechanisms and extracellular signals. Thyroid hormone (TH) helps control this timing both in vitro and in vivo, but it is still uncertain how it does so. TH acts through nuclear receptors that are encoded by two genes, TRalpha and TRbeta. Previous studies suggested that TRbeta receptors may mediate the effect of TH on oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs). Consistent with this possibility, we show here that overexpression of TRbeta1 promotes precocious oligodendrocyte differentiation, whereas expression of two dominant-negative forms of TRbeta1 greatly delays differentiation. Surprisingly, however, we find that postnatal TRbeta-/- mice have a normal number of oligodendrocytes in their optic nerves and that TRbeta-/- OPCs stop dividing and differentiate normally in response to TH in vitro. Moreover, we find that OPCs do not express TRbeta1 or TRbeta2 mRNAs, whereas they do express TRalpha1 and TRalpha2 mRNAs. These findings suggest that alpha receptors mediate the effect of TH on the timing of oligodendrocyte differentiation. We also show that TRalpha2 mRNA, which encodes a dominant-negative form of TRalpha, decreases as OPCs proliferate in vitro and in vivo. This decrease may help control when oligodendrocyte precursors differentiate.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.