The dentate gyrus (DG) principal cells are glutamatergic granule cells (GCs), and they are located in a compact cell layer. However, GCs are also present in the adjacent hilar region, but have been described in only a few studies. Therefore, we used the transcription factor prospero homeobox 1 (Prox1) to quantify GCs at postnatal day (PND) 16, 30, and 60 in a common mouse strain, C57BL/6J mice. At PND16, there was a large population of Prox1-immunoreactive (ir) hilar cells, with more in the septal than temporal hippocampus. At PND30 and 60, the size of the hilar Prox1-ir cell population was reduced. Similar numbers of hilar Prox1-expressing cells were observed in PND30 and 60 Swiss Webster mice. Prox1 is usually considered to be a marker of postmitotic GCs. However, many Prox1-ir hilar cells, especially at PND16, were not double-labeled with NeuN, a marker typically found in mature neurons. Most hilar Prox1-positive cells at PND16 co-expressed doublecortin (DCX) and calretinin, markers of immature GCs. Double-labeling with a marker of actively dividing cells, Ki67, was not detected. These results suggest that, surprisingly, a large population of cells in the hilus at PND16 are immature GCs (Type 2b and Type 3 cells). We also asked whether hilar Prox1-ir cell numbers are modifiable. To examine this issue, we conditionally deleted the proapoptotic gene BAX in Nestin-expressing cells at a time when there are numerous immature GCs in the hilus, PND2-8. When these mice were examined at PND60, the numbers of Prox1-ir hilar cells were significantly increased compared to control mice. However, deletion of BAX did not appear to change the proportion that co-expressed NeuN, suggesting that the size of the hilar Prox1-expressing population is modifiable. However, deleting BAX, a major developmental disruption, does not appear to change the proportion that ultimately becomes neurons.
Keywords: Adult neurogenesis; Migration; Progenitor; Programmed cell death; Prox1; Stem cell.