Neurons are like electric cables. To carry currents effectively, they must have a covering of insulation around their long projections. When this fatty layer – called the myelin sheath – breaks down, the effect on the nervous system can be disastrous. Currently there’s no cure for this deterioration, leaving sufferers of myelin-wasting problems, like Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, no hope of recovery. However, transplanting undeveloped cells, whose mature form (shown in red) can repair the insulation, could be a promising therapy … if a plentiful supply of these precursors can be found. To solve this, scientists used viruses to alter the genetic make-up of a common cell type in mice. This causes them to shape-shift into precursor cells, which when injected into mouse brain, leads to myelin growth. Proof that reprogrammed and naturally-occurring precursors behave similarly, gives hope that the technique could one day provide the raw materials for a Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease therapy.
Written by Jan Piotrowski
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.