The P2Y-like receptor GPR17 is expressed by adult neural progenitor cells, suggesting a role in lineage determination. Here, we characterized GPR17 expression and function in mouse cortical primary astrocytes/precursor cell cultures. GPR17 is expressed by a subpopulation of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), but not by astrocytes. This expression pattern was also confirmed in vivo. In vitro, GPR17 expression was markedly influenced by culturing conditions. In the presence of growth factors (GFs), no significant GPR17 expression was found. When cultures were shifted to a differentiating medium, a dramatic, time-dependent increase in the number of highly branched GPR17-positive cells was observed. Under these conditions, GPR17 was induced in the totality of O4-positive immature oligodendrocytes. Instead, in cultures originally grown in the absence of GFs, GPR17 was already expressed in morphologically more mature OPCs. Shifting of these cultures to differentiating conditions induced GPR17 only in a subpopulation of O4-positive cells. Under both culture protocols, appearance of more mature CNPase- and MBP-positive cells was associated to a progressive loss of GPR17. GPR17 expression also sensitized cells to adenine nucleotide-induced cytotoxicity, whereas activation with uracil nucleotides promoted differentiation towards a more mature phenotype. We suggest that GFs may keep OPCs in a less differentiated stage by restraining GPR17 expression, and that, under permissive conditions, GPR17 contributes to OPCs differentiation. However, upon high extracellular adenine nucleotide concentrations, as during trauma and ischemia, GPR17 sensitizes cells to cytotoxicity. This double-edged sword role may be exploited to unveil new therapeutic approaches to acute and chronic brain disorders.
Copyright © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.