To assess the oxidative metabolism of glial cells, we visualized mitochondrial malate dehydrogenase (mMDH) in purified cultures of neonatal rat polygonal and process-bearing astrocytes as well as in oligodendrocytes, using indirect immunofluorescence. Double immunofluorescent localization of rabbit anti-mMDH and either mouse monoclonal anti-glial fibrillary acidic protein or anti-myelin basic protein demonstrated that both process-bearing astrocytes and oligodendrocytes showed uniformly intense anti-mMDH immunoreactivity in their cell bodies. However, immunoreactivity to mMDH among polygonal astrocytes varied from very weakly positive to intensely positive. Experiments with rhodamine 123, a mitochondrion-specific fluorochrome, indicated that polygonal astrocytes contain relatively similar numbers of mitochondria; this suggested that the variable intensities of anti-mMDH immunoreactivity observed did not result from differences in mitochondrial numbers. In cultures of polygonal astrocytes maintained in a chemically defined medium containing growth factors and hormones, or in complete culture medium containing 1 mM N6, O2-dibutyryl adenosine 3',5'-cyclic phosphate, the resultant stellate astrocytes still showed their original variable levels of anti-mMDH immunoreactivity. This suggested that the mMDH distribution pattern did not depend on the degree of morphological differentiation. Furthermore, cultures of polygonal astrocytes isolated from four specific regions of neonatal rat brain showed variable but reproducible profiles of anti-mMDH immunoreactivity. Our results suggest that there may be an appreciable range in the level of oxidative metabolism among individual polygonal astrocytes in culture.
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