In the rat optic nerve, bipotential O-2A progenitor cells give rise to oligodendrocytes and type 2 astrocytes on a precise schedule. Previous studies suggest that PDGF plays an important part in timing oligodendrocyte development by stimulating O-2A progenitor cells to proliferate until they become mitotically unresponsive to PDGF, stop dividing, and differentiate automatically into oligodendrocytes. Since the loss of mitotic responsiveness to PDGF has been shown not to be due to a loss of PDGF receptors, we have now examined the possibility that the unresponsiveness results from an uncoupling of these receptors from early intracellular signaling pathways. We show that (a) although PDGF does not stimulate newly formed oligodendrocytes to synthesize DNA, it induces an increase in cytosolic Ca2+ in these cells; (b) a combination of a Ca2+ ionophore plus a phorbol ester mimics the effect of PDGF, both in stimulating O-2A progenitor cell division and in reconstituting the normal timing of oligodendrocyte differentiation in culture; and (c) the same combination of drugs does not stimulate newly formed oligodendrocytes to proliferate, even in the presence of PDGF or dibutyryl cAMP. The most parsimonious explanation for these results is that O-2A progenitor cells become mitotically unresponsive to PDGF because the intracellular signaling pathways from the PDGF receptor to the nucleus are blocked downstream from the receptor and some of the early events that are triggered by receptor activation.

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