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New Insights Into Myelin Could Help Treat Multiple Sclerosis

By LIDA TUNESI

Each of our neurons is wrapped in a fatty, insulating substance called myelin that helps signals travel through our nervous systems at top speed. Without it, problems arise. When someone has multiple sclerosis, their immune system attacks the myelin coating and that eventually causes nerve damage, leading to symptoms like numbness, tremors, and vision problems.

Now, researchers have filled in more of the picture of how myelin is made.

“We believe that understanding how these cells develop and make myelin carries useful information to aid with myelin repair in disease. Remyelination is central to therapies for MS to protects neurons from dying and to recover function,” said Professor Carmen Melendez-Vasquez (Hunter College, The Graduate Center).

Melendez-Vasquez, postdoctoral researcher Mateusz Urbanski, master’s alum Amr Almaktari, Hunter College undergraduates Azka Irfan and Yamely Hernandez, and previous postdoctoral researcher Haibo Wang were authors on the study. Their work appears in the Journal of Cell Science.

The myelin of the central nervous system is made by cells called oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes start out as immature cells, and as they develop, they grow long, flat protrusions. These reach out toward neurons and wrap around the long, slender part called the axon, creating layers of insulation. These layers are called the myelin sheath.

The authors found that tiny molecular motors called myosins are essential to oligodendrocyte growth and development. Different kinds of myosins work together in coordinated ways to change an oligodendrocyte’s shape, helping it reach its mature stage. They identified some myosins that inhibit the cell’s development and others that promote it, and were able to propose three stages of oligodendrocyte development.

Though researchers already knew that myosins often help regulate the shapes of our cells, the new study identified myosins within oligodendrocytes that were previously unknown, and started to figure out how they interact and work together. With more research, the authors hope scientists can identify the specific roles individual myosins play.