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MS research: Myelin influences how brain cells send signals
Date:7/21/2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio The development of a new cell-culture system that mimics how specific nerve cell fibers in the brain become coated with protective myelin opens up new avenues of research about multiple sclerosis. Initial findings suggest that myelin regulates a key protein involved in sending long-distance signals.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease characterized by damage to the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers. The cause remains unknown, and it is a chronic illness affecting the central nervous system that has no cure.

MS has long been considered a disease of white matter, a reference to the white-colored bundles of myelin-coated axons that project from the main body of a brain cell. But researchers have discovered that the condition also affects myelinated axons scattered in gray matter that contains main bodies of brain cells, and specifically the hippocampus region, which is important for learning and memory.

Up to half of MS patients suffer cognitive deficits in addition to physical symptoms. Researchers suspect that cognitive problems are caused by abnormal electrical activities of the demyelinated axons extending from hippocampal cells, but until now have not been able to test myelin's role in this part of the brain.

Ohio State University researchers have created a system in which two types of cells interact in a dish as they do in nature: neurons from the hippocampus and other brain cells, called oligodendrocytes, whose role is to wrap myelin around the axons.

Now that the researchers can study how myelination is switched on and off for hippocampal neurons, they also can see how myelin does more than provide insulation it also has a role in controlling nerve impulses traveling between distant parts of the nervous system. Identifying this mechanism when myelin is present will help improve understanding of what happens when axons in this critical area of the brain lose myelin as a res
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Contact: Chen Gu
gu.49@osu.edu
614-292-0349
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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