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A Two-Faced Protein: Dr. Jekyll in Normal Cells, Mr. Hyde in Tumors

Much like the plastic that encases electrical cords, a substance called myelin insulates many of our nerve fibers. It helps signals travel through our nervous systems at the high speeds necessary for thinking, moving, and sensing. Damaged or lost myelin is the root of several neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, yet scientists still don’t fully understand how it’s formed or repaired.

Now, scientists from the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and elsewhere have elucidated another step of the myelin-forming process. A protein called PRMT5 regulates myelin formation within the central nervous system, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Special precursor cells in the central nervous system mature into cells called oligodendrocytes, which then go on to form myelin. PRMT5, the researchers observed, helps control the transformation of the precursor cells into oligodendrocytes. If PRMT5 is missing or not functioning, the cell will die off when it tries to become an oligodendrocyte, and it won’t go on to make myelin.

While PRMT5 plays a critical role in ensuring the smooth transmission of nerve impulses, PRMT5 is also found in high quantities in a type of brain tumor known as glioma, according to Professor Patrizia Casaccia, director of the ASRC’s Neuroscience Initiative and corresponding author on the paper. This seeming contradiction in the protein’s behavior is now leading to new research questions.

“This is the critical gap in knowledge that we are ready to tackle,” Casaccia says. “What makes PRMT5 act as Dr. Jekyll in normal cells and Mr. Hyde in tumor cells?”

The ASRC team collaborated on the study with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore; Columbia University Medical Center; and Weill Cornell Medical College. The paper’s CUNY co-authors include postdoctoral fellow Antonella Scaglione (ASRC), postdoctoral fellow Julia Patzig (ASRC), and The Graduate Center biochemistry Ph.D. student Camila Yattah.

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Explore This Work
“PRMT5-mediated regulation of developmental myelination”

Work By
Patrizia Casaccia (Founding Director, Neuroscience Initiative at the ASRC) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
The Graduate Center 

Bonus Content
“Scientists Uncover the Role of a Protein in the Survival and Generation of the Myelin-Forming Cells” (ASRC)

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