Brain molecule helps cells that could spark remyelination

September 13, 2021
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. The discovery shows promise for treating MS. 

Myelin is an insulating layer around nerves that is gradually worn away by inflammation in MS. 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.

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. The new 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. 

The researchers are now investigating the remyelination capacity of fractalkine in a mouse model of MS. They also plan to examine whether fractalkine could affect myelination in other neurodegenerative disorders. Results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans and may be years away from being a marketable treatment. However, they added the immunological nature of fractalkine could also be important for future drug development.

The study was published in Stem Cell Reports.

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