Stem cells in the brain were found to regenerate myelin sheath which protect nerve fibers. Myelin also helps conduct electrical signals, impulses; it facilitates the good flow of electricity along the nervous system from the brain. Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) have multiple areas where the myelin has disappeared, leaving a scar (sclerosis).

Scientists from Cambridge and Edinburgh University found a biological “switch” which helps stem cells in the brain regenerate myelin in laboratory rats. They wrote about their research in Nature Neuroscience.

However, it will be several years before any treatment for humans is developed and approved, they added. They hope their technology may help in the development of new medications that target the pathway they identified to halt and perhaps even reverse MS.

In this study the scientists looked at how the MS patient’s own stem cells repair myelin. They identified RXR-gamma, a specific type of molecule, which seems to play a key role in myelin repair. By targeting RXR-gamma in laboratory rats with MS, their brains’ own stem cells were encouraged to regenerate myelin.

A drug already exists in cancer treatment that targets RXR-gamma. The scientists are trying to find out how this might be used as a treatment for MS patients.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society UK says that the next step is to work towards setting up clinical trials to find out how safe and effective a treatment might be for humans with MS.

Study leader, Professor Robin, said:

    “Therapies that repair damage are the missing link in treating multiple sclerosis. In this study we have identified a means by which the brain’s own stem cells can be encouraged to undertake this repair, opening up the possibility of a new regenerative medicine for this devastating disease.”

The scientists concluded:

    “Our results indicate that RXR-γ is a positive regulator of endogenous oligodendrocyte precursor cell differentiation and remyelination and might be a pharmacological target for regenerative therapy in the CNS.”

“Retinoid X receptor gamma signaling accelerates CNS remyelination”
Jeffrey K Huang, Andrew A Jarjour, Brahim Nait Oumesmar, Christophe Kerninon, Anna Williams, Wojciech Krezel, Hiroyuki Kagechika, Julien Bauer, Chao Zhao, Anne Baron-Van Evercooren, Pierre Chambon, Charles ffrench-Constant & Robin J M Franklin

Nature Neuroscience Year published: (2010) DOI: doi:10.1038/nn.2702

Written by Christian Nordqvist