Brain structure & function

Postnatal development of the molecular complex underlying astrocyte polarization.

PMID 24777283


Astrocytes are highly polarised cells with processes that ensheath microvessels, cover the brain surface, and abut synapses. The endfoot membrane domains facing microvessels and pia are enriched with aquaporin-4 water channels (AQP4) and other members of the dystrophin associated protein complex (DAPC). Several lines of evidence show that loss of astrocyte polarization, defined by the loss of proteins that are normally enriched in astrocyte endfeet, is a common denominator of several neurological diseases such as mesial temporal lobe epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke. Little is known about the mechanisms responsible for inducing astrocyte polarization in vivo. Here we introduce the term endfoot-basal lamina junctional complex (EBJC) to denote the proteins that consolidate and characterize the gliovascular interface. The present study was initiated in order to resolve the developmental profile of the EBJC in mouse brain. We show that the EBJC is established after the first week postnatally. Through a combination of methodological approaches, including light microscopic and high resolution immunogold cytochemistry, quantitative RT-PCR, and Western blotting, we demonstrate that the different members of this complex exhibit distinct ontogenic profiles—with the extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins laminin and agrin appearing earlier than the other members of the complex. Specifically, while laminin and agrin expression peak at P7, quantitative immunoblot analyses indicate that AQP4, α-syntrophin, and the inwardly rectifying K(+) channel Kir4.1 expression increases towards adulthood. Our findings are consistent with ECM having an instructive role in establishing astrocyte polarization in postnatal development and emphasize the need to explore the involvement of ECM in neurological disease.