Using in situ hybridization, we have visualized cells in the rat central nervous system (CNS) that contain mRNA encoding the platelet-derived growth factor alpha receptor (PDGF-alpha R). After embryonic day 16 (E16), PDGF-alpha R mRNA appears to be expressed by a subset of glial cells, but not by neurons. The temporal and spatial distribution of PDGF-alpha R+ cells, together with 125I-PDGF binding studies on subsets of glial cells in vitro, suggests that PDGF-alpha R may be expressed predominantly, or exclusively, by cells of the oligodendrocyte-type-2 astrocyte (O-2A) lineage. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the numbers of PDGF-alpha R+ cells in developing and adult optic nerves correlate well with independent estimates of the number of O-2A progenitor cells in the nerve at equivalent ages. Small numbers of PDGF-alpha R+ cells are present in the brain at E16, at which time they are found outside the subventricular germinal zones, suggesting that these cells do not express PDGF-alpha R until after, or shortly before they start to migrate away from the subventricular layer towards their final destinations. Reduced numbers of PDGF-alpha R+ cells persist in the adult CNS. PDGF-alpha R is also expressed strongly in the meningeal membranes and choroid plexus, and in the inner limiting membrane of the retina.

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