With Pantomime season kicking off back home in the UK, delegates in Milan were introduced to one of the newest cellular villains in the MND story – oligodendrocytes.
Although oligodendrocytes were first identified in the 1920s and are known to be affected in multiple sclerosis, they were generally considered as ‘bit part’ players in MND rather than ‘centre stage’.
All that has started to change in the past couple of years, with researchers in the USA and Belgium independently showing that, in both SOD1 mice and human post mortem MND brain tissue, the brain was making new oligodendrocytes to replace ones that appeared to be dying off. The problem is that the new ones being formed appear to get stuck in an immature state and therefore do not perform their role of helping motor neurons to maintain appropriate energy levels and also send electrical signals down their long nerve fibres.
So, by getting stuck in a ‘Peter Pan’ scenario of never growing up, oligodendrocytes may be at best, unable to help protect the death of motor neurons or, at worst, they may actually contribute to the degeneration. Peter Pan rather than Captain Hook as the pantomime villain is a novel twist to the script!