Functions of optic nerve glia: axoglial signalling in physiology and pathology

Arthur Butt, M. Pugh, P. Hubbard, G. James

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An early concept of glial function envisaged them as passive and unexcitable structural elements, much like the connective tissues of organs in the periphery. It is now known that glia have a widespread range of physiological roles and react to all forms of pathological insult. This paper reviews the major functions of oligodendrocytes and astrocytes, the main types of glia in the optic nerve, and examines novel NG2-glia, otherwise known as oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). The major function of oligodendrocytes is to produce the myelin sheaths that insulate CNS axons, but they also have important roles in the establishment of nodes of Ranvier, the sites of action potential propagation, and axonal integrity. Astrocytes have multiple physiological and pathological functions, including potassium homeostasis and metabolism, and reactive astrogliosis in response to CNS insults. The bulk of NG2-glia are postmitotic complex cells, distinct from OPCs, and respond to any insult to the CNS by a rapid and stereotypic injury response. This may be their primary unction, but NG2-glia, or a subpopulation of NG2-expressing adult OPCs, also provide remyelinating oligodendrocytes following demyelination. Oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, and NG2-glia all contact axons at nodes of Ranvier and respond to glutamate, ATP, and potassium released during axonal electrical activity. Glutamate and ATP evoke calcium signalling in optic nerve glia and have dual roles in physiology and pathology, coupling glial functions to axonal activity during normal activity, but enhanced activation induces an injury response, as seen following injury, demyelination, and ischaemia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1110-1121
Number of pages12
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


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