The occurrence of vimentin, a specific intermediate filament protein, has been studied by immunoflourescence microscopy in tissue of adult and embryonic brain as well as in cell cultures from nervous tissue. By double imminofluorescence labeling, the distribution of vimentin has been compared with that of subunit proteins of other types of intermediate filaments (glial fibrillary acidic [GFA] protein, neurofilament protein, prekeratin) and other cell-type specific markers (fibronectin, tetanus toxin receptor, 04 antigen). In adult brain tissue, vimentin is found not only in fibroblasts and cells of larger blood vessels but also in ependymal cells and astrocytes. In embryonic brain tissue, vimentin is detectable as early as embryonic day 11, the earliest stage tested, and is located in radial fibers spanning the neural tube, in ventricular cells, and in blood vessels. At all stages tested, oligodendrocytes and neurons do not express detectable amounts of vimentin. In primary cultures of early postnatal mouse cerebellum, a coincident location of vimentin and GFA protein is seen in astrocytes, and both types of filament proteins are included in the perinuclear aggregates formed upon exposure of the cells to colcemid. In cerebellar cell cultures of embryonic-day-13 mice, vimentin is seen in various cell types of epithelioid or fibroblastlike morphology but is absent from cells expressing tetanus toxin receptors. Among these embryonic, vimentin-positive cells, a certain cell type reacting neither with tetanus toxin nor with antibodies to fibronectin or GFA protein has been tentatively identified as precursor to more mature astrocytes.
The results show that, in the neuroectoderm, vimentin is a specific marker for astrocytes and ependymal cells. It is expressed in the mouse in astrocytes and glial precursors well before the onset of GFA protein expression and might therefore serve as an early marker of glial differentiation. Our results show that vimentin and GFA protein coexist in one cell type not only in primary cultures in vitro but also in the intact tissue in situ.