Ependymal cells reside in the adult spinal cord and display stem cell properties in vitro. They proliferate after spinal cord injury and produce neurons in lower vertebrates but predominantly astrocytes in mammals. The mechanisms underlying this glial-biased differentiation remain ill-defined. We addressed this issue by generating a molecular resource through RNA profiling of ependymal cells before and after injury. We found that these cells activate STAT3 and ERK/MAPK signaling post injury and downregulate cilia-associated genes and FOXJ1, a central transcription factor in ciliogenesis. Conversely, they upregulate 510 genes, seven of them more than 20-fold, namely Crym, Ecm1, Ifi202b, Nupr1, Rbp1, Thbs2 and Osmr-the receptor for oncostatin, a microglia-specific cytokine which too is strongly upregulated after injury. We studied the regulation and role of Osmr using neurospheres derived from the adult spinal cord. We found that oncostatin induced strong Osmr and p-STAT3 expression in these cells which is associated with reduction of proliferation and promotion of astrocytic versus oligodendrocytic differentiation. Microglial cells are apposed to ependymal cells in vivo and co-culture experiments showed that these cells upregulate Osmr in neurosphere cultures. Collectively, these results support the notion that microglial cells and Osmr/Oncostatin pathway may regulate the astrocytic fate of ependymal cells in spinal cord injury.
Keywords: ependyma; injury; microglia; oncostatin; regeneration; spinal cord; stem cells.