Oligodendrocytes and Multiple Sklerose

Oligodendrocytes are cells of the central nervous system that enable nerve cells to efficiently conduct electrical signals. Scientists of the Institute of Stem Cell Research have now gained new insights into the origin and development of oligodendrocytes, which may play an important role in multiple sclerosis.

Oligodendrocytes are cells of the central nervous system that produce the myelin sheath, a lipidous biomembrane which coats the axons of nerve cells to provide insulation that allows electrical signals to propagate more efficiently. This insulation is necessary in order to ensure a rapid nerve conduction velocity.In some neurological diseases and in particular in multiple sclerosis, the immune system destroys the myelin. As recent studies have shown, depending on their location in the brain, oligodendrocytes can regenerate throughout life from oligodendrocyte progenitor cells.

The team led by Leda Dimou has now taken a closer look at these oligodendrocyte progenitor cells to identify the reason for these differences in their differentiation potential.
Depending on the brain region in which the progenitor cells are located, a smaller or greater quantity of oligodendrocytes is generated which can produce myelin. Progenitor cells in the white matter of the brain, which consists primarily of nerve fibers, generate more oligodendrocytes than those in the gray matter, where the neuronal cell bodies are found. The aim of the researchers of the Institute of Stem Cell Research was to investigate whether this difference is cell-intrinsic or whether it is dependent on the local environment.

In the mouse model, through transplantation of the progenitor cells, the researchers observed how these develop independently from their original surroundings. The result was that the differ­ences are primarily cell-intrinsic: Progenitor cells from the white matter develop in both brain regions into myelin-producing oligodendrocytes. Progenitor cells from the gray matter are less effective.

The next step for the researchers will be to identify the factors which determine the effectiveness of these oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. Their goal is to define conditions in which these progenitors will always differentiate into oligodendrocytes that form myelin. Even though a therapy for multiple sclerosis still appears to be far in the distance, this research is an important contribution to understanding the origin and course of such neurological diseases.

Multiple Sklerose (MS)  is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system and is caused by demyelination of the nerves in which the body’s own immune cells attack the myelin sheaths of the nerve axons. The cause of this autoimmune reaction is not yet fully understood. MS is one of the most common neurological ­diseases in young adults. To date, no cure has been found.