Oligodendrocytes are glial cells that populate the entire CNS after they have differentiated from oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. From birth onward, oligodendrocytes initiate wrapping of neuronal axons with a multilamellar lipid structure called myelin. Apart from their well-established function in action potential propagation, more recent data indicate that oligodendrocytes are essential for providing metabolic support to neurons. Oligodendrocytes transfer energy metabolites to neurons through cytoplasmic "myelinic" channels and monocarboxylate transporters, which allow for the fast delivery of short-carbon-chain energy metabolites like pyruvate and lactate to neurons. These substrates are metabolized and contribute to ATP synthesis in neurons. This Review will discuss our current understanding of this metabolic supportive function of oligodendrocytes and its potential impact in human neurodegenerative disease and related animal models.
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