Neurotransmitter-mediated calcium signalling in oligodendrocyte physiology and pathology

Glia. 2006 Nov 15;54(7):666-75. doi: 10.1002/glia.20424.


The function of oligodendrocytes is to myelinate CNS axons. Oligodendrocytes and the axons they myelinate are functional units, and neurotransmitters released by axons can influence all stages of oligodendrocyte development via calcium dependent mechanisms. Some of the clearest functional evidence is for adenosine, ATP, and glutamate, which are released by electrically active axons and regulate the migration and proliferation of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells and their differentiation into myelinating oligodendrocytes. Glutamate and ATP, released by both axons and astrocytes, continue to mediate Ca(2+) signaling in mature oligodendrocytes, acting via AMPA and NMDA glutamate receptors, and heterogeneous P2X and P2Y purinoceptors. Physiological signalling between axons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes is likely to play an important role in myelin maintenance throughout life. Significantly, ATP- and glutamate-mediated Ca(2+) signaling are also major components of oligodendrocyte and myelin damage in numerous pathologies, most notably ischemia, injury, periventricular leukomalacia, and multiple sclerosis. In addition, NG2-expressing glia (synantocytes) in the adult CNS are highly reactive cells that respond rapidly to any CNS insult by a characteristic gliosis, and are able to regenerate oligodendrocytes and possibly neurons. Glutamate and ATP released by neurons and astrocytes evoke Ca(2+) signaling in NG2-glia (synantocytes), and it is proposed these regulate their differentiation capacity and response to injury. In summary, clear roles have been demonstrated for neurotransmitter-mediated Ca(2+) signaling in oligodendrocyte development and pathology. A key issue for future studies is to determine the physiological roles of neurotransmitters in mature oligodendrocytes and NG2-glia (synantocytes).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology*
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Glutamate / metabolism
  • Receptors, Purinergic / metabolism


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Receptors, Purinergic
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Adenosine Triphosphate