- Brain Awareness Week
CNS myelination and oligodendroglial cell biology
Oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system (CNS) serve to synthesize and maintain myelin sheaths, which are highly complex, multilamellar membrane structures. CNS myelination is a tightly regulated process that must occur during perinatal and early postnatal development in vertebrates. At the present time, our knowledge is very limited as to how oligodendrocytes elaborate their extensive array of architectures—including a spherical cell body, slender elongated processes, and the spiral wrappings that comprise the compacted myelin sheath itself. Our research efforts focus on issues of cell polarity and membrane targeting in oligodendrocytes. In particular, two membrane proteins, myelin/oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG) and proteolipid protein (PLP), target to mutually exclusive compartments—uncompacted membrane domains vs. compact myelin sheaths. We are pursuing structure-function analyses to determine how this differential targeting is effected. We are also interested in identifying both extracellular and intracellular molecules that interact with these proteins at the plasma membrane. The long term goal of our research program is to define and understand some of the molecular communications that are necessary to synthesize and maintain normal myelin in the CNS. By gaining a better understanding of these processes, we can design improved therapies for immune-mediated demyelinating diseases (i.e., multiple sclerosis) and developmental neurological disorders.