Synantocytes: new functions for novel NG2 expressing glia

Arthur Butt, J. Kiff, P. Hubbard, M. Berry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the adult CNS, antibodies to the NG2 chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan (CSPG) label a large population of glia that have the antigenic phenotype of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPC). However, NG2 expressing glia have the morphological phenotype of astrocytes, not OPC. We propose adult NG2 expressing glia are a distinct mature glial type, which we have called syantocytes or synantoglia after the Greek to contact, because they specifically contact neurons and axons at synapses and nodes of Ranvier, respectively. Synantocytes are highly complex cells that elaborate multiple branching processes and are an equally significant population in both white and grey matter. We provide evidence that phenotypically distinct synantocytes develop postnatally and that neither postnatal nor adult synantocytes depend on axons for their survival, indicating they respond with markedly different behaviours to the environmental cues and axonal signals that control the differentiation of OPC into oligodendrocytes. The primary response of synantocytes to changes in the CNS environment is a rapid and localised reactive gliosis. Reactive synantocytes interact intimately with astrocytes and macrophages at lesion sites, consistent with them playing a key role in the orchestration of scar formation that protects the underlying neural tissue. It is our hypothesis that synantocytes are specialised to monitor and respond to changes in the integrity of the CNS, by way of their cellular contacts, repertoire of plasmalemmal receptors and the NG2 molecule itself. To paraphrase Del Rio Hortega, we propose that synantocytes are the fifth element in the CNS, in addition to neurons, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and microglia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-565
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neurocytology
Issue number6-7
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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