Developmental origin and local signals cooperate to determine septal astrocyte identity

Yajun Xie, Christopher M. Reid, Alejandro A. Granados, Miguel Turrero Garcia, Fiona Dale-Huang, Sarah M. Hanson, Walter Mancia, Jonathan Liu, Manal Adam, Olivia Mosto, Angela O. Pisco, Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, Corey C. Harwell
bioRxiv (2023)


Astrocyte specification during development is influenced by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, but the precise contribution of each remains poorly understood. Here we show that septal astrocytes from Nkx2.1 and Zic4 expressing progenitor zones are allocated into non-overlapping domains of the medial (MS) and lateral septal nuclei (LS) respectively. Astrocytes in these areas exhibit distinctive molecular and morphological features tailored to the unique cellular and synaptic circuit environment of each nucleus. Using single-nucleus (sn) RNA sequencing, we trace the developmental trajectories of cells in the septum and find that neurons and astrocytes undergo region and developmental stage-specific local cell-cell interactions. We show that expression of the classic morphogens Sonic hedgehog (Shh) and Fibroblast growth factors (Fgfs) by MS and LS neurons respectively, functions to promote the molecular specification of local astrocytes in each region. Finally, using heterotopic cell transplantation, we show that both morphological and molecular specifications of septal astrocytes are highly dependent on the local microenvironment, regardless of developmental origins. Our data highlights the complex interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic factors shaping astrocyte identities and illustrates the importance of the local environment in determining astrocyte functional specialization.