This Protein Acts Like a Traffic Cop in the Brain

illustration of a traffic halt
The protein PRMT5 acts like a traffic cop in the brain, directing the development and survival of myelin-forming cells.

The nervous system is a complex organ that relies on a variety of biological players to ensure daily function of the human body. Myelin — a membrane produced by specialized glial cells — plays a critical role in protecting the fibers that help carry messages throughout the body. In the central nervous system (CNS), glial cells known as oligodendrocytes are responsible for producing myelin. Now, a paper published today in Nature Communications explains how researchers at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at The Graduate Center have uncovered the role of a protein known as “PRMT5” in the production of myelin and, ultimately, proper development and function of the CNS.
 
From infancy through adolescence, myelinating oligodendrocytes are generated in abundance in the human brain by progenitor cells in a process that is highly sensitive to hormones, nutrients and environmental conditions. In the adult brain, these progenitors cells — which similar to stem cells have the ability to differentiate into adult cells that perform specific tasks — serve as a reservoir for the generation of new myelin in response to learning and social experiences or to repair myelin loss after injury (e.g. after stroke or immune attack to myelin, as in Multiple Sclerosis).
 
The molecular mechanisms that generate myelin-forming oligodendrocytes are only partially understood, but through their research, ASRC scientists are one step closer to identifying them. Their work has pinpointed PRMT5 as a protein that regulates the molecules responsible for stopping or promoting the expression of certain genes that are needed for survival of oligodendrocytes and production of myelin. In other words, PRMT5 essentially acts as a traffic cop, allowing progenitor cells to become oligodendrocytes and stopping the biological signals that would interfere with myelin production.

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Submitted on: JUL 19, 2018

Category: Faculty | General GC News | Neuroscience | Research Studies