In vivo glial trans-differentiation for neuronal replacement and functional recovery in central nervous system

Cheng Qian, Bryan Dong, Xu Yang Wang, Feng Quan Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The adult mammalian central nervous system (CNS) is deficient in intrinsic machineries to replace neurons lost in injuries or progressive degeneration. Various types of these neurons constitute neural circuitries wired to support vital sensory, motor, and cognitive functions. Based on the pioneer studies in cell lineage conversion, one promising strategy is to convert in vivo glial cells into neural progenitors or directly into neurons that can be eventually rewired for functional recovery. We first briefly summarize the well-studied regeneration-capable CNS in the zebrafish, focusing on their postinjury spontaneous reprogramming of the retinal Müller glia (MG). We then compare the signaling transductions, and transcriptional and epigenetic regulations in the zebrafish MGs with their mammalian counterparts, which perpetuate certain barriers against proliferation and neurogenesis and thus fail in MG-to-progenitor conversion. Next, we discuss emerging evidence from mouse studies, in which the in vivo glia-to-neuron conversion could be achieved with sequential or one-step genetic manipulations, such as the conversions from retinal MGs to interneurons, photoreceptors, or retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), as well as the conversions from midbrain astrocytes to dopaminergic or GABAergic neurons. Some of these in vivo studies showed considerable coverage of subtypes in the newly induced neurons and partial reestablishment in neural circuits and functions. Importantly, we would like to point out some crucial technical concerns that need to be addressed to convincingly show successful glia-to-neuron conversion. Finally, we present challenges and future directions in the field for better neural function recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4773-4785
Number of pages13
JournalFEBS Journal
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Müller glia
  • PTB
  • RGC
  • axon guidance
  • axon regeneration
  • cell lineage reprogramming
  • multiomics
  • neuronal replacement
  • retina
  • retinal ganglion cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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