To study how adult hippocampal neurogenesis might originate from the proliferation of stem or progenitor cells in vivo, we have used transgenic mice expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the nestin promoter to identify these cells. Having described an astrocyte-like type 1 cell with low proliferative activity, a characteristic morphology, vascular end feet, and passive electrophysiological properties, we focused here on the large population of nestin-GFP-expressing type 2 cells, which lack all these features. Type 2 cells were highly proliferative and showed signs suggestive of their involvement in the neuronal lineage. They could be subclassified by the absence (type 2a) or presence (type 2b) of a coexpression of the early neuronal marker doublecortin. A third type of proliferating cells was doublecortin positive but nestin-GFP negative (type 3). We believe that type 2a, 2b, and 3 cells mirror a marker progression during earliest neuronal development. This view is supported by the increasing coexpression of the early granule cell-specific marker Prox-1. The low proliferative activity of type 1 cells showed little change over time or under "neurogenic interventions," such as a challenge by environmental complexity (ENR) or voluntary physical activity (RUN). However, RUN led to a significant increase of type 2 cells labeled with the proliferation marker bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU). ENR did not cause increased cell proliferation or an increased number of BrdU-labeled type 2 cells, but both ENR and RUN resulted in more newly generated cells lacking nestin-GFP immunoreactivity and expressing Prox-1. These findings allow us to break down what was broadly perceived as "proliferation" in earlier experiments into the relative contribution of several cell types, representing the earliest steps of neuronal development.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.