New Myelin Discovery has Implications for Multiple Sclerosis and Other Diseases

According to a story from EurekAlert!, a recent discovery related to myelin, a fatty acid that coats neurons, could have significant implications for diseases that impact it, such as multiple sclerosis or ‘chemobrain,’ the informal name for neurological impairment that affects cancer patients following intensive chemotherapy. In the past, researchers have believed that myelin was metabolically inert, but a study reveals that mature myelin is much more dynamic than previously thought.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease which is characterized by damage to the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating, protective covering that surrounds nerve cells and allows them to communicate effectively. Although a precise cause has not been determined, multiple sclerosis is considered an autoimmune disease, in which a certain trigger, such as an infection, may cause the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. Smoking and certain genetic variants are also considered risk factors for the disease. Symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, blindness in one eye, numbness, abnormal sensations, pain, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, difficulty speaking and swallowing, mood instability, depression, loss of coordination, and fatigue. There are a number of treatments available for the disease, but no cure. Life expectancy for patients is slightly reduced. To learn more about multiple sclerosis, click here.

Myelin and Lipid Composition

While damage to myelin is a key mechanism in multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy can also inflict considerable damage to mature myelin. The study demonstrates myelin’s dynamic characteristics primarily in its lipid composition, refuting decades of widely held assumptions about it. To perform its intended function, myelin needs a protein that binds to RNA known as Qki. If this protein is not available, then the myelin sheath cannot be sustained. 

Restoring this protein could help patients with multiple sclerosis and other conditions that cause myelin depletion. In a mouse model of depleted Qki, treatment with medications of the RXR-alpha or PPAR-beta class was able to improve symptoms of neurological dysfunction. The authors conclude that continuous lipid production is essential for myelin to maintain itself and that treating lipid depletion could be a new treatment target.


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