Study: Gene may influence oligodendrocytes

August 18, 2020
In a new study, researchers have identified a gene they claim protects oligodendrocytes in the brain from being destroyed. It is hoped the results of the study can help to improve the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, have studied possible mechanisms influencing both how well oligodendrocytes mature into functional cells and their survival during this process. In an early phase of MS, the oligodendrocytes are able to re-form and mature into new insulating cells, thus restoring neuronal functionality in the patient. However, this function is gradually blocked and with it the ability of the protective, insulating cells to fully mature. Since scientists do not know why this is, there is currently no treatment available.

By experimenting on rats, the researchers have been able to show oligodendrocytes with high levels of Gsta4 mature more quickly and are much more viable than those with normal levels of the gene. This means damage in the form of compromised insulation around neurons can more quickly be repaired.

One way the gene seems to do this is by preventing death signaling in the oligodendrocytes. These signals can be triggered by a range of factors and also involve the cells’ power plants, or mitochondria, which seem to be protected by high Gsta4 levels.

Finally, the researchers were able to show that at high Gsta4 levels, recovery occurs more quickly in an experimental model for MS than in animals with normal levels of the gene. The study showed that during cell growth and maturity, it is vital the mitochondria are protected and the apoptotic signals limited.

Results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans and may be years away from being a marketable treatment. However, the researchers suggest the results can provide knowledge about MS and the mechanism of action of the drugs in use, or soon to be used, for MS.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

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