Locating immature cells in the central nervous system

New findings by show activities of specialized brain cells differ based on their location.

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Brain and spinal cord oligodendroglia have distinct functional characteristics. Their metabolic processes are completely different from each other. However, a molecular basis for these distinctions is unknown.

Under the microscope, the cells look similar to each other. Hence, everyone assumes that they are the same.

In a new study, Rutgers University looked oligodendrocytes in the brain and spinal cord that produce myelin. Using single-cell analysis of oligodendroglia during developmental myelination, they drilled down to see what the cells are doing from a biochemical and molecular biological perspective. They found that they are entirely different.

This study could help scientists find immature cells in the central nervous system to shed light on the causes of neurodegenerative diseases. It also enables them to design and develop better treatments.

Teresa Wood, a Distinguished Professor and the Rena Warshow Endowed Chair in Multiple Sclerosis, who led the Rutgers team, said“This could help researchers find ways to boost, protect or restore myelin production depending on the types of cells they are targeting.”

“Brain imaging in people with multiple sclerosis often shows lesions—abnormalities in the myelin coating—in the brain or spinal cord. In these cases, the myelin in those areas has disappeared, and the oligodendrocytes there also have died off. A loss of myelin leads to impairments in everything from vision to muscle control. Myelin loss is also seen in brain images of patients with Alzheimer’s, autism, and schizophrenia, but the causation is not well understood.”

“Understanding the mechanisms regulating the production of myelin will allow us to develop better treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and repair following injury.”

Scientists mainly found:

  1. Oligodendrocytes in the spinal cord produce Cholesterol, a building block of myelin, with excellent efficiency and volume than oligodendrocytes in the brain. Understanding how and where a building block of myelin is being produced could help scientists develop ways to stop myelin destruction and promote myelin repair in certain areas.
  2. mTOR, which stands for mechanistic target of rapamycin, is a cell protein- essential for cholesterol production in oligodendrocytes. Identifying this protein could lead to ways to target it to enhance cholesterol and myelin production.
  3. The protein also maintains the already-formed myelin structures in the central nervous system.

Journal Reference:

  1. Luipa Khandker et al. Cholesterol biosynthesis defines oligodendrocyte precursor heterogeneity between the brain and spinal cord. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110423