The unexpected cells that help shape young brains

Summary: During brain development, oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) contribute to the process of neuronal pruning, helping to shape healthy brain development.

Source: CSHL

When the brain first connects in early development, it creates more connections than it actually needs.

Some of these connections, or synapses, will transmit critical signals as young animals begin to sense their surroundings. Others will be eliminated as the brain matures.

Only those that the animal needs to understand and interact with the world remain.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Assistant Professor Lucas Cheadle and colleagues have discovered that cells called oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) contribute to this pruning process. This helps shape a healthy brain during early development.

Understanding this vital part of brain development may reveal new strategies for treating neurodevelopmental conditions such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The discovery came while using high-powered microscopes to examine the brains of adult mice. Cheadle’s team noticed that many OPCs were actively surrounding the connection points between neurons.

The team suspected that the cells might be busy removing synapses that the brain didn’t need. Cheadle and his team wondered if OPCs did the same in younger brains. A young animal’s experiences have a particularly profound impact on the configuration of neural circuits during early development.

Green-colored cells called OPCs help the brain fine-tune its neural circuits as young animals develop. They swallow and remove connections, purple, the brain does not need. Understanding this process may inform new treatments for neurological disorders. Credit: Cheadle lab/Imaris software/CSHL, 2022

The researchers raised young mice in the dark. When the mice were first exposed to light, OPCs began engulfing synapses in response. The cells were operating in the vision processing circuits of his brain.

“OPCs appear to be particularly hardwired to regulate the brain connections associated with experiences,” says Cheadle. “These cells are very responsive to new experiences. They can take that information and use it to shape brain connections.”

Published in Neuroscience of nature, Cheadle’s team’s discovery reveals an unexpected role for OPCs. Different types of cells help shape neural circuits by removing unnecessary connections. Previously, OPCs were only known to produce cells that surround and support neurons.

Cheadle says, “This is a type of cell that’s really poised to serve as an intermediary between what’s going on in the world out there and what’s going on inside our brain.”

Cheadle hopes this new information will help better understand neurodevelopmental disorders. He plans to investigate whether defective OPC pruning plays a role in conditions such as schizophrenia and ASD.

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About this neurodevelopmental research news

Author: Press Office
Source: CSHL
Contact: Press Office – CSHL
Image: Image credited to Cheadle lab/Imaris software/CSHL, 2022

Original research: Open access
“Oligodendrocyte precursor cells engulf synapses during circuit remodeling in mice” by Yohan SS Auguste et al. Neuroscience of nature


Oligodendrocyte precursor cells span synapses during circuit remodeling in mice

Oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) give rise to myelinating oligodendrocytes throughout life, but the functions of OPCs are not limited to oligodendrogenesis.

Here we show that OPCs contribute to thalamocortical presynapse elimination in the developing and adult mouse visual cortex. OPC-mediated synapse entanglement increases in response to sensory experience during neural circuit refinement.

Our data suggest that OPCs can regulate synaptic connectivity in the brain independently of oligodendrogenesis.

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