Mature, adult oligodendrocytes can reacquire their ability to produce myelin to replace the ones lost in diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) without undergoing a stem cell-like state, a new study shows.
Myelin is the fat-rich substance that wraps around nerve fiber projections (axons) protecting them and increasing the speed of the signals relayed by nerve cells. Myelin loss is the underlying cause of MS.
The study “The adult oligodendrocyte can participate in remyelination” was published in the journal PNAS.
Oligodendrocytes are the cells producing myelin, and those responsible for myelinating the nerve cells’ axons. A single oligodendrocyte is capable of myelinating multiple axons.
Mature, myelin-producing oligodendrocytes develop from more immature, stem cell-like cells, called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. So, when myelin is lost, the only way to recover it is to have a new oligodendrocyte from progenitor cells to produce it again.
This has been the dogma in MS research, and the reason why MS treatments aimed at remyelination have been focused on recruiting oligodendrocyte progenitor cells to the sites of myelin damage, in order to induce new myelin production.
Now, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine show evidence that mature oligodendrocytes can reactivate and produce myelin again.
Using cats and Old World monkeys, called rhesus macaques, that suffered a severe loss of myelin in their axons, the researchers showed that mature oligodendrocytes could begin re-myelinating the damaged axons.
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