Ventricular zone cells in the developing CNS undergo extensive cell division in vivo and under certain conditions in vitro. The culture conditions that promote cell division have been studied to determine the role that contact with cell membrane associated factors play in the proliferation of these cells. Progenitor cells have been taken from the ventricular zone of developing rat cerebral cortex and placed into microwells. Small clusters of these cells can generate large numbers of neurons and non-neuronal progeny. In contrast, single progenitor cells largely cease division, approximately 90% acquiring neuron-like characteristics by 1 day in vitro. DiI-labeled, single cells from embryonic day 14 cortex plated onto clusters of unmarked progenitor cells have a significantly higher probability (approximately 3-fold) of maintaining a progenitor cell phenotype than if plated onto the plastic substratum around 100 microns away from the clusters. Contact with purified astrocytes also promotes the progenitor cell phenotype, whereas contact with meningeal fibroblasts or balb3T3 cells promotes their differentiation. Membrane homogenates from cortical astrocytes stimulate significantly more incorporation of BrdU by E14 cortical progenitor cells than membrane homogenates from meningeal fibroblasts. These data indicate that the proliferation of rat cortical progenitor cells can be maintained by cell-type specific, membrane-associated factors.

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