Axonal Regulation of Central Nervous System Myelination: Structure and Function


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Abstract

Approximately half of the human brain consists of myelinated axons. Central nervous system (CNS) myelin is made by oligodendrocytes and is essential for nervous system formation, health, and function. Once thought simply as a static insulator that facilitated rapid impulse conduction, myelin is now known to be made and remodeled in to adult life. Oligodendrocytes have a remarkable capacity to differentiate by default, but many aspects of their development can be influenced by axons. However, how axons and oligodendrocytes interact and cooperate to regulate myelination in the CNS remains unclear. Here, we review recent advances in our understanding of how such interactions generate the complexity of myelination known to exist in vivo. We highlight intriguing results that indicate that the cross-sectional size of an axon alone may regulate myelination to a surprising degree. We also review new studies, which have highlighted diversity in the myelination of axons of different neuronal subtypes and circuits, and structure-function relationships, which suggest that myelinated axons can be exquisitely fine-tuned to mediate precise conduction needs. We also discuss recent advances in our understanding of how neuronal activity regulates CNS myelination, and aim to provide an integrated overview of how axon-oligodendrocyte interactions sculpt neuronal circuit structure and function.

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