PloS one

A functional requirement for astroglia in promoting blood vessel development in the early postnatal brain.

PMID 23110156


Astroglia are a major cell type in the brain and play a key role in many aspects of brain development and function. In the adult brain, astrocytes are known to intimately ensheath blood vessels and actively coordinate local neural activity and blood flow. During development of the neural retina, blood vessel growth follows a meshwork of astrocytic processes. Several genes have also been implicated in retinal astrocytes for regulating vessel development. This suggests a role of astrocytes in promoting angiogenesis throughout the central nervous system. To determine the roles that astrocytes may play during brain angiogenesis, we employ genetic approaches to inhibit astrogliogenesis during perinatal corticogenesis and examine its effects on brain vessel development. We find that conditional deletion from glial progenitors of orc3, a gene required for DNA replication, dramatically reduces glial progenitor cell number in the subventricular zone and astrocytes in the early postnatal cerebral cortex. This, in turn, results in severe reductions in both the density and branching frequency of cortical blood vessels. Consistent with a delayed growth but not regression of vessels, we find neither significant net decreases in vessel density between different stages after normalizing for cortical expansion nor obvious apoptosis of endothelial cells in these mutants. Furthermore, concomitant with loss of astroglial interactions, we find increased endothelial cell proliferation, enlarged vessel luminal size as well as enhanced cytoskeletal gene expression in pericytes, which suggests compensatory changes in vascular cells. Lastly, we find that blood vessel morphology in mutant cortices recovers substantially at later stages, following astrogliosis. These results thus implicate a functional requirement for astroglia in promoting blood vessel growth during brain development.