Embryonic cortical neural stem cells are self-renewing progenitors that can differentiate into neurons and glia. We generated neurospheres from the developing cerebral cortex using a mouse genetic model that allows for lineage selection and found that the self-renewing neural stem cells are restricted to Sox2 expressing cells. Under normal conditions, embryonic cortical neurospheres are heterogeneous with regard to Sox2 expression and contain astrocytes, neural stem cells, and neural progenitor cells sufficiently plastic to give rise to neural crest cells when transplanted into the hindbrain of E1.5 chick and E8 mouse embryos. However, when neurospheres are maintained under lineage selection, such that all cells express Sox2, neural stem cells maintain their Pax6(+) cortical radial glia identity and exhibit a more restricted fate in vitro and after transplantation. These data demonstrate that Sox2 preserves the cortical identity and regulates the plasticity of self-renewing Pax6(+) radial glia cells.
Keywords: Sox genes; gliogenesis; neural crest; neural stem cell; neurogenesis; radial glia; self-renewal; stem cell niche.