Progress report – Dr Ben Emery
Following the award of a
two year project grant in 2010, funded by the Trish Foundation, Dr Ben Emery
and his team have been making excellent progress in their investigations of the
mechanisms that control myelination in the central nervous system (CNS).
Myelin is the insulating
sheath that surrounds nerve fibres and allows the effective transmission of
nerve signals. Loss of myelin and death of oligodendrocytes, the cells that
make myelin in the CNS, are key features in MS. The CNS does show some ability
to generate new oligodendrocytes and remyelinate in MS, however, the process is
often incomplete, contributing to the ongoing loss of function. Identifying the
genes that promote myelination has great potential to lead to therapeutic
strategies to improve myelin repair in MS.
Dr Emery's team had
previously discovered a gene (GM98, also known as Myelin Gene Regulatory
Factor) that is usually switched on in oligodendrocytes at the time they are
generating myelin. The team has now shown that in mice lacking this gene, the
oligodendrocytes are unable to form myelin, leading to severe neurological
dysfunction. Conversely, turning this gene on appears to promote myelination.
"We are really excited by these results", said Dr Emery, "as
they suggest we have identified a major regulator of myelination during
Dr Emery is now studying
the mechanisms by which this gene controls the myelination process, and whether
it also regulates remyelination following a demyelinating injury. Dr Emery
said, "Our preliminary results indicate that the gene acts as a molecular
switch to control myelination in conjunction with other regulators already
present within oligodendrocytes.” The gene is very active during successful
remyelination and the team is currently investigating if increasing its
activity in mice with an experimental version of MS can increase the efficiency
of myelin repair.
Dr Emery’s work has
generated two scientific papers to date and he has also been successful in obtaining
a major grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to expand