Neuroepithelial precursors in the ventral ventricular zone (VZ) of the spinal cord generate motor neurons (MNs) and interneurons, and then a subset of precursors starts to produce oligodendrocyte progenitors (OLPs). We show that OLPs originate in the ventral-most part of the Pax6-positive VZ, which at earlier times generates somatic (Isl2/Lim3-positive) MNs. In Small eye (Pax6-deficient) mice, the origin of OLPs is shifted dorsally and both OLPs and Isl2/Lim3 MNs are delayed. We suggest that somatic MNs and OLPs are generated sequentially from a common set of MN-OL precursors whose position in the VZ is influenced by Pax6. Neuron-glia fate switching might be a preprogrammed property of these precursors or a response to feedback from newly generated neurons. OLs developed normally in explants of Isl1(-/-) spinal cords, which lack MNs, arguing against feedback control and suggesting that the neuron-glia switch is an intrinsic developmental program in a specific subset of neural precursors.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.