Brain molecule helps ‘wake up’ cells that could help tackle MS and similar diseases, study shows
An immunological molecule called fractalkine can boost the production of brain cells that produce myelin, a key factor in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, according to recent research from the University of Alberta.
Myelin is an insulating layer around nerves that is gradually worn away by inflammation in multiple sclerosis and similar diseases. Without this layer, the nerve impulses that travel through the body are slowed, causing neurological problems.
Though there are therapies that manage symptoms or attempt to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, effective treatments would require restoring lost myelin. Finding methods to kick the myelination process into high gear is a crucial step in the quest for treatment.
Anastassia Voronova, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Genetics and Canada Research Chair in Neural Stem Cell Biology, explains that neural stem cells produce a variety of brain cells, including oligodendrocytes, a type of cell in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Oligodendrocytes are the only brain cells that produce myelin.
“During development, these neural stem cells build the brain. In the adult brain, part of the reason they exist is to replenish damaged or lost cells, including oligodendrocytes,” said Voronova, who is also a member of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute.
“However, especially in humans, replacement of oligodendrocytes is very inefficient. The goal of my lab is to identify molecules that are capable of ‘waking up’ those neural stem cells we all have in our brain to replenish those oligodendrocytes.”
Voronova’s study showed that fractalkine — a molecule previously thought to have a role only in the immune system — noticeably stimulated the transformation of neural stem cells into oligodendrocytes.