Olfactory ensheathing glia (OEG) are a specialized type of glia that guide primary olfactory axons from the neuroepithelium in the nasal cavity to the brain. The primary olfactory system is able to regenerate after a lesion and OEG contribute to this process by providing a growth-supportive environment for newly formed axons. In the spinal cord, axons are not able to restore connections after an injury. The effects of OEG transplants on the regeneration of the injured spinal cord have been studied for over a decade. To date, of all the studies using only OEG as a transplant, 41 showed positive effects, while 13 studies showed limited or no effects. There are several contradictory reports on the migratory and axon growth-supporting properties of transplanted OEG. Hence, the regenerative potential of OEG has become the subject of intense discussion. In this review, we first provide an overview of the molecular and cellular characteristics of OEG in their natural environment, the primary olfactory nervous system. Second, their potential to stimulate regeneration in the injured spinal cord is discussed. OEG influence scar formation by their ability to interact with astrocytes, they are able to remyelinate axons and promote angiogenesis. The ability of OEG to interact with scar tissue cells is an important difference with Schwann cells and may be a unique characteristic of OEG. Because of these effects after transplantation and because of their role in primary olfactory system regeneration, the OEG can be considered as a source of neuroregeneration-promoting molecules. To identify these molecules, more insight into the molecular biology of OEG is required. We believe that genome-wide gene expression studies of OEG in their native environment, in culture and after transplantation will ultimately reveal unique combinations of molecules involved in the regeneration-promoting potential of OEG.
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