Creating an environment for
Holly Cate, from the University of Melbourne, was awarded an MS Research
Australia project grant in 2014, supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation.
This grant funded her work studying how to enhance the ability of the brain to
repair MS mediated damage, with the hope of reversing the progression of MS
Cate’s focus has been on the repair and recovery of the protective myelin
sheath which surrounds the nerve cells in the central nervous system (the
brain, spinal cord and optic nerves). In people with MS, the immune system
attacks and damages this myelin sheath. The damaged nerve sheath then means
that the nerve impulses are either blocked or slowed down in the damaged
nerves, leading to the physical symptoms of MS.
process of repairing the myelin sheath is called remyelination, and this
process is carried out by specialised cells in the brain called
oligodendrocytes. In MS brain lesions there are precursor cells which can
become oligodendrocytes. Dr Cate has conducted a series of experiments designed
to understand how we can encourage these precursor cells to differentiate into
fully functional oligodendrocytes, which then could repair the damaged myelin.
has discovered that there is protein in the brain, known as BMP4 which blocks
these precursor cells from becoming fully functional oligodendrocytes. In
further investigations Dr Cate and her colleagues have discovered that this isn’t a direct effect of that
protein on the oligodendrocytes but rather due to the protein interacting with
astrocytes, another type of support cell found in the brain and throughout the
central nervous system. The astrocytes, then in turn, block the
oligodendrocytes precursor cells from maturing to form myelin.
This important work is now being carried on by a PhD student, Alistair Cole
under the supervision of Dr Simon Murray and Dr Junhua Xiao in the laboratory
at the University of Melbourne. The team aim to discover further details of the
mechanism by which BMP4 and
astrocytes block the formation of oligodendrocytes. If the actions of BMP4 can
be blocked, this may allow the development of a novel therapeutic strategy to
repair myelin in MS.
myelin repair therapies could work alongside traditional MS therapies that
suppress the inflammatory attack on myelin to then allow increased myelin
repair. This in turn could prevent permanent nerve cell damage in people with
MS. Dr Cate has now completed her work on this project and has moved into
another field of science. We are most grateful to Dr Cate for the huge
contribution she has made to the field of myelin repair and we look forward to
hearing more from Dr Murray and his colleagues as they continue this important