Single-Cell Transcriptomics Uncovers Glial Progenitor Diversity and Cell Fate Determinants during Development and Gliomagenesis

Cell Stem Cell. 2019 May 2;24(5):707-723.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2019.03.006. Epub 2019 Apr 11.


The identity and degree of heterogeneity of glial progenitors and their contributions to brain tumor malignancy remain elusive. By applying lineage-targeted single-cell transcriptomics, we uncover an unanticipated diversity of glial progenitor pools with unique molecular identities in developing brain. Our analysis identifies distinct transitional intermediate states and their divergent developmental trajectories in astroglial and oligodendroglial lineages. Moreover, intersectional analysis uncovers analogous intermediate progenitors during brain tumorigenesis, wherein oligodendrocyte-progenitor intermediates are abundant, hyper-proliferative, and progressively reprogrammed toward a stem-like state susceptible to further malignant transformation. Similar actively cycling intermediate progenitors are prominent components in human gliomas with distinct driver mutations. We further unveil lineage-driving networks underlying glial fate specification and identify Zfp36l1 as necessary for oligodendrocyte-astrocyte lineage transition and glioma growth. Together, our results resolve the dynamic repertoire of common and divergent glial progenitors during development and tumorigenesis and highlight Zfp36l1 as a molecular nexus for balancing glial cell-fate decision and controlling gliomagenesis.

Keywords: brain tumorigenesis; cell-fate choice; glial progenitor heterogeneity; glioma; intermediate progenitors; lineage-driving networks; oligodendrocyte progenitor cells; pri-OPC; reprogramming; single-cell signatures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Butyrate Response Factor 1 / genetics
  • Carcinogenesis
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cellular Reprogramming
  • Fetal Development
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glioma / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Transcriptome / genetics*


  • Butyrate Response Factor 1
  • ZFP36L1 protein, human