The capacity for long-distance migration of the oligodendrocyte precursor cell, oligodendrocyte-type 2 astrocyte (O-2A), is essential for myelin formation. To study the molecular mechanisms that control this process, we used an in vitro migration assay that uses neurohypophysial explants. We provide evidence that O-2A cells in these preparations express functional N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, most likely as homomeric complexes of the NR1 subunit. We show that NMDA evokes an increase in cytosolic Ca2+ that can be blocked by the NMDA receptor antagonist AP-5 and by Mg2+. Blocking the activity of these receptors dramatically diminished O-2A cell migration from explants. We also show that NMDA receptor activity is necessary for the expression by O-2A cells of the highly sialylated polysialic acid-neural cell adhesion molecule (PSA-NCAM) that is required for their migration. Thus, glutamate or glutamate receptor ligands may regulate O-2A cell migration by modulating expression of PSA-NCAM. These studies demonstrate how interactions between ionotropic receptors, intracellular signaling, and cell adhesion molecule expression influence cell surface properties, which in turn are critical determinants of cell migration.

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