Research published in Nature Neuroscience
, electronic publication ahead
of print) has shown that adult stem cells
in mice that are developing into nerve
cells can be redirected to turn into myelin
-making cells by changing a single gene
. This type of research may some day help
repair the damage to myelin which occurs in multiple sclerosis (MS).
people with MS the immune system
can attack both myelin and myelin
making cells (oligodendrocytes). Limiting the number of myelin making cells
impairs the capacity to repair the damage to myelin. One potential treatment
option currently being investigated involves encouraging immature stem cells
that reside in the adult brain, called neural stem cells, to move to areas of
damage and repair myelin.
When neural stem cells are grown in the
laboratory scientists have been able to reprogramme them to develop into several
different types of brain cells, including oligodendrocytes. This latest research
which took place in The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California
sought to determine if it would be possible to repeat these experiments in the
A gene called Asc1 which is associated with oligodendrocyte
development was introduced into the stem cells in the brain and caused neural
stem cells to develop into oligodendrocytes.
This study confirms that
adult stem cells in the brain retain their ability to be converted to certain
other types of brain cells. Further research is needed to determine the
significance of these finding to myelin repair in people with MS.
Laura Bell at the MS Society said: 'Finding a way to cause stem cells which are
already present in the brain to repair damaged myelin is an attractive potential
treatment option for people with MS. This is early research but it is an
important step and we look forward to seeing how the work progresses.'