New research suggests that immature cells in the central nervous system may uncover the causes of neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, and an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and the nervous system, and that may lead to better therapeutic therapies.
Researchers at Rutgers looked at cells known as oligodendrocytes in the brain and spinal cord that produce myelin, which protects nerve cells and allows them to function properly.
In a fundamental way, oligodendrocyte cells in the brain are distinct from oligodendrocytes in the spinal cord, and their metabolic processes, the essential chemicals that them are, are completely different.
Everyone assumed they were the same, according to Teresa Wood, a Distinguished Professor and the Rena Warshow Endowed Chair in Multiple Sclerosis, who led the Rutgers team. We looked down to see what the cells are doing from a biochemical and molecular biological perspective. And they are totally different.
According to Wood, he is a professor and author of research at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
The myelin coatingin the brain or spinal cord is often seen in brain imaging of patients with multiple sclerosis. In these cases, the myelin in those areas has disappeared, and the oligodendrocytes there have died. A myelin loss is reflected in brain images of patients with Alzheimers disease, autism, and schizophrenia, but the cause isn''t well understood.
This effort involves locating immature cells scattered throughout the central nervous system that will mature into oligodendrocytes, causing myelin to thrive and restoring the leions.
Understanding the mechanisms that regulate the production of myelin will enable us to develop better treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and for rehabilitation following injury, according to Wood, who is also a member of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey''s Cancer Metabolism and Growth Program.
Three key conclusions have been made by the research team in general:
- Cholesterol, a building block of myelin, is produced by oligodendrocytes in the spinal cord at a greater efficiency and volume than oligodendrocytes in the brain. Understanding how and where a building block of myelin is produced could assist researchers looking for ways to thwart myelin destruction or to promote myelin repair in certain areas.
- The cell protein known as mTOR (short for: mechanistic target of rapamycin) is necessary for the production of cholesterol in oligodendrocytes. By recognizing this protein, researchers may be able to target it to enhance cholesterol and myelin production.
- The cell protein mTOR is also critical for maintaining the already-formed myelin structures in the central nervous system.