Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Saltatory conduction


Current methods for studying central nervous system myelination necessitate permissive axonal substrates conducive to myelin wrapping by oligodendrocytes. We have developed a neuron-free culture system in which electron-spun nanofibers of varying sizes substitute for axons as a substrate for oligodendrocyte myelination, thereby allowing manipulation of the biophysical elements of axonal-oligodendroglial interactions. To investigate axonal regulation of myelination, this system effectively uncouples the role of molecular (inductive) cues from that of biophysical properties of the axon. We use this method to uncover the causation and sufficiency of fiber diameter in the initiation of concentric wrapping by rat oligodendrocytes. We also show that oligodendrocyte precursor cells display sensitivity to the biophysical properties of fiber diameter and initiate membrane ensheathment before differentiation. The use of nanofiber scaffolds will enable screening for potential therapeutic agents that promote oligodendrocyte differentiation and myelination and will also provide valuable insight into the processes involved in remyelination.

Concepts: Saltatory conduction, Multiple sclerosis, Neuron, Oligodendrocyte, Action potential, Myelin, Axon, Nervous system


Myelination and voltage-gated ion channel clustering at the nodes of Ranvier are essential for the rapid saltatory conduction of action potentials. Whether myelination influences the structural organization of the axon initial segment (AIS) and action potential initiation is poorly understood. Using the cuprizone mouse model, we combined electrophysiological recordings with immunofluorescence of the voltage-gated Nav1.6 and Kv7.3 subunits and anchoring proteins to analyze the functional and structural properties of single demyelinated neocortical L5 axons. Whole-cell recordings demonstrated that neurons with demyelinated axons were intrinsically more excitable, characterized by increased spontaneous suprathreshold depolarizations as well as antidromically propagating action potentials ectopically generated in distal parts of the axon. Immunofluorescence examination of demyelinated axons showed that βIV-spectrin, Nav1.6, and the Kv7.3 channels in nodes of Ranvier either dissolved or extended into the paranodal domains. In contrast, while the AIS in demyelinated axons started more closely to the soma, ankyrin G, βIV-spectrin, and the ion channel expression were maintained. Structure-function analysis and computational modeling, constrained by the AIS location and realistic dendritic and axonal morphologies, confirmed that a more proximal onset of the AIS slightly reduced the efficacy of action potential generation, suggesting a compensatory role. These results suggest that oligodendroglial myelination is not only important for maximizing conduction velocity, but also for limiting hyperexcitability of pyramidal neurons.

Concepts: Nodes of Ranvier, Oligodendrocyte, Saltatory conduction, Nervous system, Myelin, Axon, Neuron, Action potential


The length of myelin sheaths affects conduction speed along axons and information propagation. It has recently become clear that myelin may be adaptively modified to modulate circuit function, implying that length remodeling of myelin sheaths should occur. However, direct evidence for such events is lacking. We have investigated how myelination patterns are formed, maintained, and remodeled using long-term imaging and myelin ablation in zebrafish. We demonstrate that length differences between myelin sheaths are established by rapid and variable growth within 3 days after their formation, independently of their time of formation, and even along discontinuously myelinated axons. Afterward, sheaths continue extending at similar rates to compensate for overall animal growth. In consequence, once axon myelination patterns are established, they are maintained over long periods of time. We tested whether mature myelin sheaths can remodel by removing individual sheaths from single axons by targeted ablation. Remarkably, extensive changes in sheath length and number occurred, which frequently restored the original myelination pattern. Our results show that axons can control myelin growth and remodeling, and we provide evidence for a homeostatic control of axon myelination patterns by maintenance and remodeling of myelin sheath length, with implications for circuit development, function, and repair.

Concepts: Multiple sclerosis, Neuron, Oligodendrocyte, Action potential, Saltatory conduction, Axon, Nervous system, Myelin


Nerve myelination facilitates saltatory action potential conduction and exhibits spatiotemporal variation during development associated with the acquisition of behavioral and cognitive maturity. Although human cognitive development is unique, it is not known whether the ontogenetic progression of myelination in the human neocortex is evolutionarily exceptional. In this study, we quantified myelinated axon fiber length density and the expression of myelin-related proteins throughout postnatal life in the somatosensory (areas 3b/3a/½), motor (area 4), frontopolar (prefrontal area 10), and visual (areas 17/18) neocortex of chimpanzees (N = 20) and humans (N = 33). Our examination revealed that neocortical myelination is developmentally protracted in humans compared with chimpanzees. In chimpanzees, the density of myelinated axons increased steadily until adult-like levels were achieved at approximately the time of sexual maturity. In contrast, humans displayed slower myelination during childhood, characterized by a delayed period of maturation that extended beyond late adolescence. This comparative research contributes evidence crucial to understanding the evolution of human cognition and behavior, which arises from the unfolding of nervous system development within the context of an enriched cultural environment. Perturbations of normal developmental processes and the decreased expression of myelin-related molecules have been related to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. Thus, these species differences suggest that the human-specific shift in the timing of cortical maturation during adolescence may have implications for vulnerability to certain psychiatric disorders.

Concepts: Saltatory conduction, Developmental psychology, Neuron, Myelin, Action potential, Axon, Psychology, Nervous system


Nerve conduits have emerged as alternatives to autologous nerve grafts, but their use in large-diameter, critical nerve repairs is limited. In the previous study, we prepared a PRGD/PDLLA/β-TCP/NGF sustained-release nerve conduit, which was made of RGD peptide modified poly{(lactic acid)-co-[(glycolic acid)-alt-(L-lysine)]} (PRGD), poly(d,l-lactic acid) (PDLLA), β-tricalcium phosphate (β-TCP) and nerve growth factor (NGF). Here we attempted to use the PRGD/PDLLA/β-TCP/NGF sustained-release nerve conduit to bridge a 30-mm dog tibial nerve defect in six beagles. The other beagles were divided into group autograft (n = 6) as positive control and group PDLLA (n = 6) as negative control. After 9 months of implantation, nerve conduction velocities, the density of myelinated fibers, the mean diameter of axon, and the average thickness of myelin sheath in tibial nerves bridged with PRGD/PDLLA/β-TCP/NGF sustained-release nerve conduits were similar to those treated with autologous nerve (p > 0.05). Neither electrophysiological nor histological restoration was obtained in group PDLLA. Evidence is thus provided in support of the use of PRGD/PDLLA/β-TCP/NGF sustained-release nerve conduits as alternatives to autologous nerve grafts for treatment of large-diameter, critical defects in peripheral nerves.

Concepts: Tibial nerve, Saltatory conduction, Nerve growth factor, Myelin, Nerve conduction study, Axon, Nervous system, Action potential


Oligodendrocytes produce myelin for rapid transmission and saltatory conduction of action potentials in the vertebrate central nervous system. Activation of the myelination program requires several transcription factors including Sox10, Olig2, and Nkx2.2. Functional interactions among them are poorly understood and important components of the regulatory network are still unknown. Here, we identify Nfat proteins as Sox10 targets and regulators of oligodendroglial differentiation in rodents and humans. Overall levels and nuclear fraction increase during differentiation. Inhibition of Nfat activity impedes oligodendrocyte differentiation in vitro and in vivo. On a molecular level, Nfat proteins cooperate with Sox10 to relieve reciprocal repression of Olig2 and Nkx2.2 as precondition for oligodendroglial differentiation and myelination. As Nfat activity depends on calcium-dependent activation of calcineurin signaling, regulatory network and oligodendroglial differentiation become sensitive to calcium signals. NFAT proteins are also detected in human oligodendrocytes, downregulated in active multiple sclerosis lesions and thus likely relevant in demyelinating disease.

Concepts: Saltatory conduction, Neuron, Oligodendrocyte, Action potential, Axon, Nervous system, Multiple sclerosis, Myelin


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory demyelinating disorder in which remyelination failure contributes to persistent disability. Cholesterol is rate-limiting for myelin biogenesis in the developing CNS; however, whether cholesterol insufficiency contributes to remyelination failure in MS, is unclear. Here, we show the relationship between cholesterol, myelination and neurological parameters in mouse models of demyelination and remyelination. In the cuprizone model, acute disease reduces serum cholesterol levels that can be restored by dietary cholesterol. Concomitant with blood-brain barrier impairment, supplemented cholesterol directly supports oligodendrocyte precursor proliferation and differentiation, and restores the balance of growth factors, creating a permissive environment for repair. This leads to attenuated axon damage, enhanced remyelination and improved motor learning. Remarkably, in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, cholesterol supplementation does not exacerbate disease expression. These findings emphasize the safety of dietary cholesterol in inflammatory diseases and point to a previously unrecognized role of cholesterol in promoting repair after demyelinating episodes.

Concepts: Saltatory conduction, Axon, Neuron, Action potential, Nervous system, Oligodendrocyte, Myelin, Multiple sclerosis


The axon myelin sheath is prone to injury associated with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type glutamate receptor activation but the source of glutamate in this context is unknown. Myelin damage results in permanent action potential loss and severe functional deficit in the white matter of the CNS, for example in ischemic stroke. Here, we show that in rats and mice, ischemic conditions trigger activation of myelinic NMDA receptors incorporating GluN2C/D subunits following release of axonal vesicular glutamate into the peri-axonal space under the myelin sheath. Glial sources of glutamate such as reverse transport did not contribute significantly to this phenomenon. We demonstrate selective myelin uptake and retention of a GluN2C/D NMDA receptor negative allosteric modulator that shields myelin from ischemic injury. The findings potentially support a rational approach toward a low-impact prophylactic therapy to protect patients at risk of stroke and other forms of excitotoxic injury.

Concepts: Oligodendrocyte, Saltatory conduction, NMDA receptor, Nervous system, Action potential, Axon, Myelin, Neuron


Precise timing of synaptic inputs is a fundamental principle of neural circuit processing. The temporal precision of postsynaptic input integration is known to vary with the computational requirements of a circuit, yet how the timing of action potentials is tuned presynaptically to match these processing demands is not well understood. In particular, action potential timing is shaped by the axonal conduction velocity and the duration of synaptic transmission delays within a pathway. However, it is not known to what extent these factors are adapted to the functional constraints of the respective circuit. Here, we report the finding of activity-invariant synaptic transmission delays as a functional adaptation for input timing adjustment in a brainstem sound localization circuit. We compared axonal and synaptic properties of the same pathway between two species with dissimilar timing requirements (gerbil and mouse): In gerbils (like humans), neuronal processing of sound source location requires exceptionally high input precision in the range of microseconds, but not in mice. Activity-invariant synaptic transmission and conduction delays were present exclusively in fast conducting axons of gerbils that also exhibited unusual structural adaptations in axon myelination for increased conduction velocity. In contrast, synaptic transmission delays in mice varied depending on activity levels, and axonal myelination and conduction velocity exhibited no adaptations. Thus, the specializations in gerbils and their absence in mice suggest an optimization of axonal and synaptic properties to the specific demands of sound localization. These findings significantly advance our understanding of structural and functional adaptations for circuit processing.

Concepts: Saltatory conduction, Adaptation, Nerve, Myelin, Nervous system, Action potential, Neuron, Axon


Mounting evidence suggests that neuronal activity influences myelination, potentially allowing for experience-driven modulation of neural circuitry. The degree to which neuronal activity is capable of regulating myelination at the individual axon level is unclear. Here we demonstrate that stimulation of somatosensory axons in the mouse brain increases proliferation and differentiation of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) within the underlying white matter. Stimulated axons display an increased probability of being myelinated compared to neighboring non-stimulated axons, in addition to being ensheathed with thicker myelin. Conversely, attenuating neuronal firing reduces axonal myelination in a selective activity-dependent manner. Our findings reveal that the process of selecting axons for myelination is strongly influenced by the relative activity of individual axons within a population. These observed cellular changes are consistent with the emerging concept that adaptive myelination is a key mechanism for the fine-tuning of neuronal circuitry in the mammalian CNS.

Concepts: Synapse, Saltatory conduction, Oligodendrocyte, Action potential, Neuron, Axon, Nervous system, Myelin