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Neuroscience and Psychiatry
November 2014

Dynamic Regulation of Myelination in Health and Disease

Author Affiliations
  • 1F. M. Kirby Neurobiology Center, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 3Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4currently with Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Kresge Hearing Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(11):1296-1297. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1049

Since its initial discovery in the 1800s until recently, myelin was considered a simple insulator for axons, and its formation was believed to be regulated by predetermined biochemical and cellular processes. Moreover, both oligodendrocytes and the myelin they generate were considered to be static components of the nervous system. However, recent studies have revealed that oligodendrocyte development and myelination are highly dynamic processes that continue throughout adult life, are influenced by experience and neuronal activity, and contribute to cognitive function and behavior. This represents a dramatic change in the way we think about the development and function of myelin. This paradigm shift is also relevant to the understanding of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder, as myelin defects have been observed in brains of these patients and myelin genes have been linked to these conditions.1 Furthermore, psychiatric disorders frequently begin in adolescence or young adulthood, a time when myelination in several brain regions, such as the temporal lobes and prefrontal frontal cortex (PFC), is still ongoing. Herein, we discuss the current thinking on how experience influences myelin and its implications for mental health and disease.

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