In the nervous system, to maintain the efficiency of axons transmitting information over long distances in the form of electrical pulses, the myelin is required to wrap around the axon. Myelin is a lipid-rich specialized membrane generated by glial cells. In the central nervous system (CNS), myelin is generated from glial cells, which are also called oligodendrocytes.
Oligodendrocytes play important roles in the development of the nervous system, including myelination, and promote the rapid spread of action potentials, as well as support and ensure the long-term survival of axons. Myelination is a dynamic process that relates to complex interactions between different cell types. These functions are coordinated by communication between oligodendrocytes and neurons.
Fig.1 Oligodendrocyte development and myelination in zebrafish. (Mathews, 2016)
Oligodendrocytes Differentiation Process
During neural development, oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) are generated from special neural progenitors. And oligodendrocytes develop from OPCs to quiescent, highly branched mature oligodendrocytes. For example, spinal cord OPCs are generated from a ventral progenitor population. Before the differentiation process, OPCs migrate throughout the CNS and reach their target axons. A subset of OPCs then differentiate into mitotic pre-myelinating oligodendrocytes, and then mature into myelin-forming oligodendrocytes, while other OPCs persist into adulthood. Nonetheless, we have very little understanding of the mechanisms that regulate oligodendrocytes differentiation and myelination.
Scientists at Creative Biolabs have developed an approach that 3D neural spheroids can be obtained from human induced pluripotent stem (hiPS) cells to model the development of oligodendrocytes.
Fig.2 Oligodendrocyte lineage progression in zebrafish. (Mathews, 2016)
Diseases Related to Oligodendrocytes
Recent studies have shown that the lack of myelin is associated with a broad range of neuropsychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington's disease, depression, and schizophrenia. The destruction of myelin can be caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, and normal aging. In summary, myelin defects lead to serious health burdens, and it is urgent to develop novel therapeutic strategies to promote the formation, protection, and repair of myelin.
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Mathews, E.; Appel, B. Oligodendrocyte differentiation. Methods in cell biology. 2016, 134: 69-96.
Marton, R.; et al. Differentiation and maturation of oligodendrocytes in human three-dimensional neural cultures. Nature neuroscience. 2019, 22(3): 484-491.