NeuN is a 46/48-kD nuclear protein antigen used widely to identify postmitotic neurons in both research and diagnostics. It is expressed by neurons throughout the nervous system of a variety of species, including birds, rodents, and man (Mullen et al.  Development 116:201-211). When we sought to use NeuN to follow the developmental progression of murine cerebellar interneurons, we observed that expression of this antigen in the cerebellum was restricted to granule neurons and a small population of cells present in the lower molecular layer of the adult cerebellum. In an attempt to identify these cells, we combined immunostaining for NeuN with a panel of cell type-specific markers to unambiguously identify neurons that express NeuN in the adult and developing cerebellum. In contrast to postmitotic granule neurons, NeuN was not expressed by any other immunocytochemically identified cerebellar interneurons, which comprised basket and stellate cells, Golgi neurons, unipolar brush cells, and Lugaro cells. NeuN-positive cells in the molecular layer failed to express any cell type-specific markers tested. They may represent ectopic granule cells; alternatively, they may represent a hitherto unknown population of cerebellar cells. In vitro experiments suggest that NeuN expression is related closely to granule cell axogenesis. This approach also revealed that the level of NeuN expression could be modulated by chronically depolarizing these cells. Thus, whereas NeuN expression per se is a reliable marker of proliferative capacity, levels of NeuN expression may also be indicative of the physiological status of a postmitotic neuron.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.