BackgroundMultiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammation-mediated demyelinating disease of the central nervous system that eventually results in secondary axonal degeneration due to remyelination failure. Successful remyelination is orchestrated by astrocytes (ASTRs) and requires sequential activation, recruitment, and maturation of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). In both MS and experimental models, remyelination is more robust in grey matter (GM) than white matter (WM), which is likely related to local differences between GM and WM lesions. Here, we investigated whether adult gmASTRs and wmASTRs per se and in response to MS relevant Toll-like receptor (TLR) activation differently modulate myelination.MethodsDifferences in modulation of myelination between adult gmASTRs and wmASTRs were examined using an in vitro myelinating system that relies on a feeding layer of ASTRs. Transcriptional profiling and weighted gene co-expression network analysis were used to analyze differentially expressed genes and gene networks. Potential differential modulation of OPC proliferation and maturation by untreated adult gmASTRs and wmASTRs and in response to TLR3 and TLR4 agonists were assessed.ResultsOur data reveal that adult wmASTRs are less supportive to in vitro myelination than gmASTRs. WmASTRs more abundantly express reactive ASTR genes and genes of a neurotoxic subtype of ASTRs, while gmASTRs have more neuro-reparative transcripts. We identified a gene network module containing cholesterol biosynthesis enzyme genes that positively correlated with gmASTRs, and a network module containing extracellular matrix-related genes that positively correlated with wmASTRs. Adult wmASTRs and gmASTRs responding to TLR3 agonist Poly(I:C) distinctly modulate OPC behavior, while exposure to TLR4 agonist LPS of both gmASTRs and wmASTRs results in a prominent decrease in myelin membrane formation.ConclusionsPrimary adult gmASTRs and wmASTRs are heterogeneous at the transcriptional level, differed in their support of in vitro myelination, and their pre-existing phenotype determined TLR3 agonist responses. These findings point to a role of ASTR heterogeneity in regional differences in remyelination efficiency between GM and WM lesions.