Wrapped Up Safely
To ensure effective signal transmission, the long projections of neurons, the axons, are coated in a protective substance known as myelin. In patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, their immune system attacks this myelin sheath, damaging the neurons and disrupting neural signalling. Under normal circumstances, neural stem cells (NSCs) in the brain can mature into myelin-producing cells – oligodendrocytes (pictured, with nuclei in blue, myelin in green) – to repair any damage. Researchers investigating this process found that, in mice, a protein named Chi3l3 stimulates the production of oligodendrocytes by triggering a cascade of signals that guide NSCs towards becoming oligodendrocytes. Closely-related human proteins, CHIT1 and CHI3L1, have a similar effect on human NSCs, suggesting that they could be a promising target for future research, to ultimately boost the brain’s ability to fight diseases like multiple sclerosis.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
- Image by Sarah C. Starossom, Charité, Berlin
- Institute for Medical Immunology, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
- Image copyright held by the original authors
- Research published in Nature Communications, January 2019