This is the first study to provide evidence that one function for the surface glycolipid galactocerebroside (GalC) is participation in the opening of Ca2+ channels in oligodendroglia in culture. This glycolipid is a unique differentiation marker for myelin-producing cells; antibodies to GalC have been shown to markedly alter oligodendroglial morphology via disruption of microtubules (Dyer, C. A., and J. A. Benjamins. 1988. J. Neurosci. 8:4307-4318). This study demonstrates that extracellular EGTA blocks anti-GalC-induced disassembly of microtubules in oligodendroglial membrane sheets, demonstrating that an influx of extracellular Ca2+ mediates the cytoskeletal changes. The Ca2+ influx was examined directly by loading oligodendroglia with the fluorescent dye Indo-1 in defined medium, and measuring changes in Ca2+ in individual cells with a laser cytometer. Upon addition of anti-GalC IgG, a marked sustained increase in intracellular Ca2+ occurred in 80% of the oligodendroglia observed. EGTA blocked the increase, indicating the increase is due to an influx of extracellular Ca2+, and not due to release from intracellular stores. The effect is specific, since Ca2+ levels remain normal in oligodendroglia treated with nonimmune IgG; astrocytes do not respond to the anti-GalC. The Ca2+ response in oligodendrocytes is dependent on concentration of antibody and GalC on the oligodendroglial membrane surface. The Ca2+ influx is not mediated by voltage-sensitive Ca2+ channels: it is not blocked by cadmium, and depolarization with K+ does not mimic the response. The kinetics of the response suggest that second messenger-mediated opening of Ca2+ channels is involved.

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