For proper brain function, it’s crucial that certain neurons be wrapped with myelin, a coating that enhances impulse transmission. Failure can spell outcomes ranging from cerebral palsy to multiple sclerosis.
A better understanding of oligodendrocytes, the brain cells that make myelin, might help correct or prevent these diseases. Yet, while cultured neurons have long been scrutinized and manipulated in efforts to pry loose their secrets, studying human oligodendrocytes has been tough. They’re born late in brain development, and they’re challenging to generate alongside human neurons and other brain cells in a way that recapitulates the complex interactions occurring among these cell types as they develop.
Now, Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have proved that a system they developed a few years ago for culturing balls of stem-cell-derived human brain cells, which mimic aspects of real brain circuitry, can generate oligodendrocytes together with neurons and a third type of brain cell called astrocytes.
Lead author Rebecca Marton is a 2017 Bio-X Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow.