We have immortalized rat central nervous system (CNS) cells of primary cultures of rat optic nerve with murine leukemia virus psi-2,SV-40-6, which is defective in assembly and contains the SV-40 large T antigen and neomycin resistance genes, to produce a cell line that we named A7. After drug selection, greater than 90% of the growing cells expressed nuclear SV-40 large T cells and a fraction of these contained the astrocyte-specific marker, glial fibrillary acidic protein. The majority of these cells also expressed surface marker A4 (specific for neural tube derivatives), Ran 2, p185 (the 185-kD phosphoprotein product of the neu oncogene), and fibronectin, but did not express the astrocyte enzymes glutamine synthetase and monoamine oxidase B. Surface markers characteristic of glial progenitors (A2B5) and oligodendrocytes (galactocerebroside) were not detected. After two rounds of cell cloning, subclone A7.6-3 expressed Ran 2, fibronectin, and the neural cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM) but not glial fibrillary acidic protein and A4. The A7 cell line and subclones also displayed certain functions of type 1 astrocytes: the conditioned medium of these cells had a potent mitogenic activity for glial progenitor cells which could be neutralized by anti-platelet-derived growth factor antibodies and monolayers of these cells supported the growth of embryonic hypothalamic neurons. We conclude that a retrovirus containing SV-40 large T antigen can immortalize rat CNS cells and that such immortalized glial cells retain at least two important functions of type 1 astrocytes: the ability to secrete platelet-derived growth factor and to support the growth of embryonic CNS neurons. Moreover, such stable immortalized clonal cell lines can be used to study gene regulation in glial cells.

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