MS caused by central nervous system (CNS) demyelination. In this disease, it is the oligodendrocytes, the cells that generate the insulating myelin coat surrounding CNS nerves, which are lost. This leaves the exposed axons (nerve fibres) unable to efficiently transmit nerve signals and leaves them vulnerable to permanent damage.
A crucial therapeutic challenge after a demyelinating event is to identify ways to promote remyelination by surviving oligodendrocytes. Currently the failure of remyelination remains a major obstacle to recovery in MS and strategies aimed at improving and enhancing remyelination are critically important to complement the currently available immunomodulatory treatments which can reduce the occurrence of attacks or ‘relapses’ but do not have any significant impact on repairing the damage already done.
The team have recently identified that brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor present in the CNS, enhances myelination during development. In this project they will build on this research by investigating the role that BDNF plays in myelin repair after a demyelinating event. Analysis of how BDNF promotes myelin repair may provide insight into potential new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of MS.
Dr Murray’s work is looking at restoring damaged myelin nerve sheaths. He and his team have shown that following an event which damages myelin they can restore some of the myelin nerve sheaths using a protein called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Interestingly in addition to restoring myelin, they have discovered that BDNF treatment also increases the number of oligodendrocytes in the brain, oligodendrocytes are the specialised cells which make new myelin to help remyelinate nerve cells. This suggests BDNF has multiple roles in helping with the remyelination of axons. He is now following up to determine the exact mechanism by which BDNF leads to remyelination.
Dr Murray has also been testing three chemicals which might act like BDNF. These chemicals may be more easily made than BDNF, an important consideration when trying to design a therapy. To date they have shown that one chemical molecule called TDP6 exerts a strong effect in favour of myelination, and can repair myelin nerve sheaths following damage. They are still in the progress of testing the further two chemicals.
This project illustrates a potential method to restore the myelin sheath following damage, which is important for MS patients who need solutions to repair areas of damaged myelin in the brain. The researchers are continuing to investigate this promising area and have used this study to secure further funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council to carry on this promising work.
Updated: 29 June 2016
Updated: 06 January, 2014