The role of BDNF and pro-BDNF in regulating myelination

Dr Junhua Xiao

The University of Melbourne

| A cure via repair and regeneration | Neurobiology | Fellowship | 2007 | Investigator Led Research |


Dr Xiao is analyzing the signals which regulate myelination that largely remain obscure. The demyelination insults suffered in multiple sclerosis (MS) present a complex challenge to develop strategies that complement and enhance the innate ability of the nervous system to remyelinate (repair myelin).

Current MS therapies are limited to the modulation or suppression of the immune system. Dr Xiaos research focuses on the nervous system, particularly the myelinating cells. It is these myelinating cells - Schwann cells, in the peripheral nervous system and oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system, that are responsible for ensheathing the axons of neurons in myelin, and it is these cells that are most effected in MS.

Specifically, Dr Xiao has been investigating the role of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (or BDNF) and its role in remyelination.

Project Outcomes

Dr Xiao has made two very important discoveries during the course of his Fellowship. Firstly that BDNF has an important role in mediating peripheral myelination— an unexpected but important finding into the regulation of myelination. However, it is still unclear as to how it achieves this. Secondly, that BDNF enhances the capacity of oligodendrocytes to wrap around and myelinate nerve axons in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). This finding demonstrates that myelination in the brain and spinal cord can be enhanced via direct mechanisms.

Dr Xiao has demonstrated that BDNF is a key positive modulator of CNS myelination, enhancing the capacity of oligodendrocytes to wrap around and myelinate nerve axons. Dr Xiao has been the first to demonstrate that BDNF exhibits its positive influence on myelination via directly acting on myelin forming oligodendrocytes.

This research demonstrates that BNDF controls both peripheral and central nervous system myelination via distinct cellular mechanisms.

As a result of this work Dr Xiao has been successful in obtaining a National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant of $460,000 to extend his work unravelling the mechanisms by which BDNF influences myelin repair.

Updated: 05 January, 2007


  • Dr Junhua Xiao, The University of Melbourne

Grant Awarded

  • MS Research Australia Betty Cuthbert Fellowship

Total Funding

  • $140,000


  • 4 years

Funding Partner

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The role of BDNF and pro-BDNF in regulating myelination