Multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, and other conditions caused by a loss of myelin insulation around nerves can be debilitating and even deadly, but adequate treatments do not yet exist. That's in large part because of deficiencies in model research systems. In an upcoming issue of the journal Biomaterials, a UCF team addresses this problem with a report on the first lab-grown motor nerves that are insulated and organized the same way they are in the body. The group's model system, along with further advances now within reach, could dramatically improve understanding of the causes of myelin-related conditions, and enable discovery and testing of new drug therapies.
Nerve malfunctions, or neuropathies, involve a breakdown in the way the brain sends and receives electric signals along nerve cells. In mammals, these signals are able to travel long distances because of breaks in their myelin insulation called nodes of Ranvier, each of which chemically boosts the signal, allowing it to travel to the next node. "They're like power station relays," says James Hickman, a bioengineer at UCF who led the new research, which achieved the first successful nodes of Ranvier formation ever on motor nerves in a lab culture, among other advances.
Multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetic neuropathy, Guillain-Barr syndrome, and other demyelinating conditions are caused when nerve signals can't travel their normal path from node to node due to myelin breakdown. Within the brain and spinal cord, where the damage from MS occurs, cells called oligodendrocytes surround the nerves and produce this critical myelin. In the peripheral nervous system, where the problems associated with diabetic neuropathy originate, Schwann cells perform this function.
Due to the famous complexity of the nervous system, studying demyelinating neuropathies has proven exceedingly challenging. "People have basically been stuck doing work in animal models, and they don't wo
|Contact: James Hickman|
University of Central Florida