Cortical radial glia: Identification in tissue culture and evidence for their transformation to astrocytes

Susan M. Culican, Nikki L. Baumrind, Miyuki Yamamoto, Alan L. Pearlman

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205 Scopus citations


Radial glia are transiently present in the developing cerebral cortex, where they are thought to guide the migration of neurons from the proliferative zone to the forming cortical plate. To provide a framework for experimental studies of radial glia, we have defined morphological and immunocytochemical criteria to identify them in primary cultures of cortical cells obtained at embryonic day 13 in the mouse. Cortical radial glia in culture for 1-2 d resemble radial glia in vivo: they have a long, thin, unbranched process extending from one or both ends of the elongated cell body and are labeled with the monoclonal antibody RC1 but not with antibodies to glial fibrillary acidic protein (abGFAP). We tested the specificity of RC1 by double-labeling with a panel of cell-type specific antibodies, and found that it labels radial glia, astrocytes, and fibroblast-like cells, but not neurons. Fibroblasts are easily distinguished from glia by morphology and by labeling with antibodies to fibronectin. To test the hypothesis that radial glia become astrocytes when their developmental role is complete, we examined their morphological and immunocytochemical development in culture. After 3-4 d in vitro radial glia develop several branched processes; in this transitional stage they are labeled by both RC1 and abGFAP. Many radial glia lose RC1 immunoreactivity as they become increasingly branched and immunoreactive to abGFAP. In areas of the cultures that have few neurons and in cultures depleted of neurons by washing, flat, nonprocess-bearing glia predominate. These cells do not lose immunoreactivity to RC1 during the 9-d period of observation even though they acquire GFAP. Thus cortical radial glia undergo an apparently neuron-dependent morphological and immunocytochemical transformation in tissue culture, gradually coming to resemble stellate astrocytes. This in vitro transformation provides support for previous suggestions that a similar event occurs in vivo and opens the prospect for an analysis of the factors that control it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)684-692
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


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