News in Brief: Brain cell insulators are short-timers

Tuesday, June 25th 2013. | Science News

News in Brief: Brain cell insulators are short-timers

Limited myelin production time may make it harder to repair nerve casings damaged by multiple sclerosis

Limited myelin production time may make it harder to repair nerve casings damaged by multiple sclerosis

By Tina Hesman Saey

Web edition: June 24, 2013

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SHORT-TIMER CELLS

Cells called oligodendrocytes (shown in green) only spend five hours insulating nerve fibers (purple) with a waxy coating of myelin in the zebrafish central nervous system.

Credit: T. Czopka et al/Developmental Cell 2013

Cells that sheathe the brain’s electrical wires in a protective coating called myelin have a brief career, a new study of zebrafish finds.

Specialized brain cells known as oligodendrocytes wrap myelin around axons, long fibers that carry electrical messages between nerve cells. After only five hours, the cells bow out of the myelin production business, researchers from the University of Edinburgh report in the June 24 Developmental Cell.

Myelination is crucial for brain function, and when it breaks down, so does communication among brain cells. The new results could influence treatment strategies for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, which damages myelin. Instead of coaxing existing cells to replenish myelin, doctors may need to stimulate new oligodendrocyte growth in patients’ nervous systems.

In the new study, researchers made time-lapse movies of neural development in zebrafish by tagging electricity-generating neurons and myelin-making oligodendrocytes in the fishes’ spinal cords with different colors. A protein called Fyn kinase stimulates oligodendrocytes to produce more myelin sheaths for the first five hours of the cells’ existence, but the protein can’t persuade the cells to postpone retirement, the researchers discovered.


T. Czopka, C. ffrench-Constant, and D. A. Lyons. Individual oligodendrocytes have only a few hours in which to generate new myelin sheaths in vivo. Developmental Cell Vol. 25, June 24, 2013, p. 599. Doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2013.05.013 [Go to]


L. Sanders. Brain’s white matter diminished in isolated mice. Science News Vol. 182, October 20, 2012, p. 18. [Go to]

L. Sanders. How exercise benefits nerve cells. Science News online, August 4, 2011. [Go to]

T. H. Saey. DNA comparison of identical twins finds no silver bullet for MS. Science News Vol. 177, May 22, 2010, p. 14. [Go to]

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