Brain development and function relies on the exchange of signals between neurons and glial cells. Here we review a series of recent studies on cultures of purified retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) that point to a new role of glial cells in the formation and plasticity of synaptic connections. The results suggest that neurons must import glia-derived cholesterol via lipoproteins to form numerous and efficient synaptic connections. This finding may explain why throughout the central nervous system (CNS) the main phase of synaptogenesis starts synchronously after glia differentiation and why astrocytes produce apolipoprotein E (apoE) and cholesterol-containing lipoproteins. Experimental tests of these hypotheses may further our understanding of the cholesterol metabolism in the brain and may help to explain neurologic symptoms resulting from defective cholesterol and lipoprotein metabolism.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.