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Neurons in the developing brain undergo extensive structural refinement as nascent circuits adopt their mature form. This transformation is facilitated by the engulfment and degradation of excess axonal branches and inappropriate synapses by surrounding glial cells, including microglia and astrocytes. However, the small size of phagocytic organelles and the complex, highly ramified morphology of glia has made it difficult to determine the contribution of these and other glial cell types to this process. Here, we used large scale, serial electron microscopy (ssEM) with computational volume segmentation to reconstruct the complete 3D morphologies of distinct glial types in the mouse visual cortex. Unexpectedly, we discovered that the fine processes of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), a population of abundant, highly dynamic glial progenitors, frequently surrounded terminal axon branches and included numerous phagolysosomes (PLs) containing fragments of axons and presynaptic terminals. Single- nucleus RNA sequencing indicated that cortical OPCs express key phagocytic genes, as well as neuronal transcripts, consistent with active axonal engulfment. PLs were ten times more abundant in OPCs than in microglia in P36 mice, and declined with age and lineage progression, suggesting that OPCs contribute very substantially to refinement of neuronal circuits during later phases of cortical development.

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