Ependymal development, proliferation, and functions: a review

Microsc Res Tech. 1998 Apr 1;41(1):2-13. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0029(19980401)41:1<2::AID-JEMT2>3.0.CO;2-Z.


A survey of the literature shows that proliferation of ependyma occurs largely during the embryonic and early postnatal periods of development in most species. Differentiation of these cells proceeds along particular regional and temporal gradients as does the expression of various cytoskeletal (vimentin, cytokeratins, glial fibrillary acidic protein) and secretory proteins (S-100). Turnover declines significantly postnatally, and only low levels of residual activity persist into adulthood under normal conditions. Although the reported response of ependyma to injury is somewhat equivocal, only limited regenerative capacity appears to exist and to varying degrees in different regions of the neuraxis. Proliferation has been most often observed in response to spinal cord injury. Indeed, the ependyma plays a significant role in the initiation and maintenance of the regenerative processes in the spinal cord of inframammalian vertebrates. In the human, however, ependyma appears never to regenerate at any age nor re-express cytoskeletal proteins characteristic of immature cells. The functions of ependyma including tanycytes, a specialized form of ependymal cell that persists into adulthood within circumscribed regions of the nervous system, are still largely speculative. Fetal unlike mature ependyma is believed to be secretory and is believed to play a role in neurogenesis, neuronal differentiation/axonal guidance, transport, and support. In the adult brain, mature ependyma is not merely an inert lining but may regulate the transport of ions, small molecules, and water between the cerebrospinal fluid and neuropil and serve an important barrier function that protects neural tissue from potentially harmful substances by mechanisms that are still incompletely understood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Division
  • Cerebral Ventricles / cytology
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Ependyma* / cytology
  • Ependyma* / embryology
  • Ependyma* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Spinal Canal / cytology


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins