Oligodendrocytes are cells that produce myelin, a fatty substance that coats nerve cells. Multiple sclerosis is a condition that causes the immune system to attack both myelin and oligodendrocytes mistakenly.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the brain and spinal cord, causing issues with muscle control, balance, and vision. It is a chronic condition that affects myelin, a fatty tissue that coats cells to help them communicate.

MS causes various symptoms that range from mild to severe and affects people differently. It typically first causes vision problems, weakness, tingling, and numbness. Symptoms at later stages could include a loss of mobility and speech problems.

Oligodendrocytes are cells that produce myelin in the central nervous system (CNS) for maintenance and repair. The CNS includes the brain and spinal cord. MS is an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack oligodendrocytes and myelin mistakenly. This results in nerve cells being unable to conduct electrical signals quickly and efficiently.

In this article, we will discuss how oligodendrocytes relate to MS and the symptoms and treatments for MS.

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MS is a disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks the CNS. The CNS contains nerve cells, which transmit signals in the brain and spinal cord. MS specifically damages myelin and oligodendrocytes.

Myelin is a fatty substance that protects the axons of nerve cells. The axons allow cells to communicate, and myelin makes that communication more efficient. Glial cells are support cells of the nervous system, and oligodendrocytes are a glial cell in the CNS that produces myelin.

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) refers to any part of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord. Nerve cells in the PNS also have myelin around their axons. However, MS does not typically affect myelin in the PNS.

MS primarily targets the myelin of the nerve cell axons in the CNS. The immune system mistakenly attacks myelin and the oligodendrocyte cells producing it, causing inflammation and damage.

Damage to oligodendrocytes and myelin prevents nerve cells from properly communicating with each other. The brain and nervous system are unable to function properly without sending signals. This can cause a range of MS symptoms.

Yes, oligodendrocytes are a potential target for treatment in MS. Many treatment options for MS aim to reduce inflammation in various ways. One of the newer areas of research is aiming to prevent damage occurring to oligodendrocytes.

Oligodendrocytes can repair or replace damaged myelin in the CNS. However, MS disrupts this process. Treatments could aim to protect oligodendrocytes from damage or to stimulate them to repair damaged myelin.

For example, a cancer drug called bexarotene could potentially treat MS. The drug targets RXR-gamma, which is a molecule of the oligodendrocyte cells that help it produce myelin. Targeting these molecules might increase how efficiently oligodendrocytes can produce myelin.

Schwann cells play a similar role in the PNS to oligodendrocytes in the CNS. Both these cells produce myelin but have different chemical structures.

Diseases can affect different cells of the nervous system. The symptoms differ for conditions that affect Schwann cells versus those that affect oligodendrocytes. For example, MS affects oligodendrocytes in the CNS, while Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease affects Schwann cells in the PNS.

MS can cause various symptoms because it can affect any part of the CNS. They can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the myelin and nerve cell damage.

Some common early symptoms include:

  • vision problems, such as double or blurred vision
  • muscle weakness, typically in the hands and legs
  • muscle stiffness and spasms
  • tingling, numbness, and pins and needles
  • balance problems
  • difficulty controlling the bladder
  • dizziness

MS can cause symptoms later in the disease that include:

  • tiredness
  • mood changes
  • difficulty thinking

There are several treatment options for MS, and many of them aim to help reduce inflammation. A healthcare team will suggest a course of treatment depending on factors that include age, disease progression, and other conditions or medications.

There is currently no cure for MS, but several treatments are available. For example, disease-modifying therapies can slow down the progression of the disease. Corticosteroids and plasma exchange can also help treat symptom flare-ups.

Other types of treatments can reduce the risk of symptom flare-ups, and these treatments include the medications natalizumab and ocrelizumab. However, these treatments can have side effects and increase the risk of other complications.

There are also treatments to help manage symptoms, such as physical therapy for balance problems or a cane to assist with walking.

Below are some common questions about MS and myelin.

How does MS affect the myelin sheath?

The myelin sheath is an insulating layer around nerve cells. In people with MS, immune cells attack the myelin sheath and the cells that produce it, making it harder for messages to pass through nerve cells.

Does myelin cause multiple sclerosis?

Myelin is a fatty substance that insulates nerve cells in certain parts of the body. MS affects myelin in a person’s central nervous system. Researchers do not know the exact cause of MS, although genetic, immune, and environmental factors may play a role.

What causes a break down of myelin with multiple sclerosis?

MS causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the central nervous system, causing inflammation, and destroying myelin and the cells that produce it.

What triggers episodes of myelin loss in MS?

Researchers estimate that genetic, environmental, and immune factors may play a role in causing MS. However, they do not know the exact cause or triggers.

MS causes the immune system to attack oligodendrocytes and the myelin they produce mistakenly. Myelin coats nerve cells in the central nervous system to help them communicate. MS damages this coating and causes a range of symptoms, such as vision and balance problems.

Treatments are under development to target oligodendrocytes, with the aim of protecting them or stimulating them to repair damaged myelin. Schwann cells are similar to oligodendrocytes but in the peripheral nervous system, and MS does not affect them.