Genetic dissection of myelin galactolipid function

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The roles that the myelin galactolipids galactocerebroside (GalC) and sulfatide play in cellular differentiation, myelin formation and maintenance have been investigated for nearly 3 decades. During that time the primary approach has been to perturb lipid activity using antibodies and chemical agents in artificial systems. Recently, the isolation of the gene that encodes UDP-galactose:ceramide galactosyltransferase (CGT), the enzyme that catalyzes an essential step in the synthetic pathway of GalC and sulfatide, has enabled the generation of mice that lack myelin galactolipids. These mice display a severe tremor, hindlimb paralysis and electrophysiological defects. In addition, the CGT null mutants exhibit: 1) impaired oligodendrocyte differentiation, 2) myelin sheaths that are thin, incompletely compacted and unstable, and 3) structural abnormalities in the nodal and paranodal regions including disrupted axo-glial junctions. Collectively, these findings suggest that GalC and sulfatide are essential in myelin formation and maintenance, possibly by mediating intra- and intercellular interactions.

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