This study addresses the role of Sonic hedgehog (Shh) in promoting the generation of oligodendrocytes in the mouse telencephalon. We show that in the forebrain, expression of the early oligodendrocyte markers Olig2, plp/dm20 and PDGFR(alpha) corresponds to regions of Shh expression. To directly test if Shh can induce the development of oligodendrocytes within the telencephalon, we use retroviral vectors to ectopically express Shh within the mouse embryonic telencephalon. We find that infections with Shh-expressing retrovirus at embryonic day 9.5, result in ectopic Olig2 and PDGFR(alpha) expression by mid-embryogenesis. By postnatal day 21, cells expressing ectopic Shh overwhelmingly adopt an oligodendrocyte identity. To determine if the loss of telencephalic Shh correspondingly results in the loss of oligodendrocyte production, we studied Nkx2.1 mutant mice in which telencephalic expression of Shh is selectively lost. In accordance with Shh playing a role in oligodendrogenesis, within the medial ganglionic eminence of Nkx2.1 mutants, the early expression of PDGFR(alpha) is absent and the level of Olig2 expression is diminished in this region. In addition, in these same mutants, expression of both Shh and plp/dm20 is lost in the hypothalamus. Notably, in the prospective amygdala region where Shh expression persists in the Nkx2.1 mutant, the presence of plp/dm20 is unperturbed. Further supporting the idea that Shh is required for the in vivo establishment of early oligodendrocyte populations, expression of PDGFR(alpha) can be partially rescued by virally mediated expression of Shh in the Nkx2.1 mutant telencephalon. Interestingly, despite the apparent requirement for Shh for oligodendrocyte specification in vivo, all regions of either wild-type or Nkx2.1 mutant telencephalon are competent to produce oligodendrocytes in vitro. Furthermore, analysis of CNS tissue from Shh null animals definitively shows that, in vitro, Shh is not required for the generation of oligodendrocytes. We propose that oligodendrocyte specification is negatively regulated in vivo and that Shh generates oligodendrocytes by overcoming this inhibition. Furthermore, it appears that a Shh-independent pathway for generating oligodendrocytes exists.

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