Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by demyelinated lesions in the central nervous system. Destruction of myelin and secondary damage to axons and neurons leads to significant disability, particularly in people with progressive MS. Accumulating evidence suggests that the potential for myelin repair exists in MS, although for unclear reasons this process fails. The cells responsible for producing myelin, the oligodendrocytes, and their progenitors, oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), have been identified at the site of lesions, even in adults. Their presence suggests the possibility that endogenous remyelination without transplantation of donor stem cells may be a mechanism for myelin repair in MS. Strategies to develop novel therapies have focused on induction of signaling pathways that stimulate OPCs to mature into myelin-producing oligodendrocytes that could then possibly remyelinate lesions. We have been investigating pharmacological approaches to enhance OPC differentiation, and have identified that the combination of two agents, triiodothyronine (T3) and quetiapine, leads to an additive effect on OPC differentiation and consequent myelin production via both overlapping and distinct signaling pathways. While the ultimate production of myelin requires cholesterol biosynthesis, we identified that quetiapine enhances gene expression in this pathway more potently than T3. Two blockers of cholesterol production, betulin and simvastatin, reduced OPC differentiation into myelin producing oligodendrocytes. Elucidating the nature of agents that lead to complementary and additive effects on oligodendrocyte differentiation and myelin production may pave the way for more efficient induction of remyelination in people with MS.
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