Intrinsic and extrinsic regulators of oligodendrocyte progenitor proliferation and differentiation

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2021 Aug;116:16-24. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2020.10.002. Epub 2020 Oct 22.


Oligodendrocytes are highly specialized glial cells, responsible for producing myelin in the central nervous system (CNS). The multi-stage process of oligodendrocyte development is tightly regulated to ensure proper lineage progression of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) to mature myelin producing oligodendrocytes. This developmental process involves complex interactions between several intrinsic signaling pathways that are modulated by an array of extrinsic factors. Understanding these regulatory processes is of crucial importance, as it may help to identify specific molecular targets both to enhance plasticity in the normal CNS and to promote endogenous recovery following injury or disease. This review describes two major regulators that play important functional roles in distinct phases of oligodendrocyte development: OPC proliferation and differentiation. Specifically, we highlight the roles of the extracellular astrocyte/radial glia-derived protein Endothelin-1 in OPC proliferation and the intracellular Akt/mTOR pathway in OPC differentiation. Lastly, we reflect on how recent advances in neuroscience and scientific technology will enable greater understanding into how intrinsic and extrinsic regulators interact to generate oligodendrocyte diversity.

Keywords: Differentiation; Endothelin-1; Erk1/2; Oligodendrocyte progenitors; Proliferation; Subventricular zone; mTOR.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Humans
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*