Promoting remyelination in the
central nervous system
Early in 2016 Dr David Gonsalvez was awarded a prestigious Betty Cuthbert Postdoctoral Fellowship co-funded by National Health and Medical Research Council / MS Research Australia, with MS Research Australia’s contribution provided with full funding support from the Trish MS Research Foundation.
MS results from the damage and loss of myelin, the conductive layer present around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. This makes the nerve fibres unable to transmit their electrical signals, but also leaves the nerves very vulnerable to permanent damage. Myelin can be repaired, but this process is often incomplete and the failure of remyelination is thought to contribute to the development of the secondary progressive form of MS. At the moment there are no treatment options available that promote the repair of myelin to restore lost function and prevent further disability in people with MS.
It is known the myelin repair is inhibited by some of the chemicals and physical features associated with the scarring that occurs within long standing lesions of the brain and spinal cord. Dr Gonsalvez is investigating a particular pathway of chemical signals between cells that is thought to inhibit myelin repair called the Wnt signalling pathway. In a laboratory model Dr Gonsalvez has inhibited parts of the Wnt signalling pathway in healthy brains to see how this affects myelin growth. His preliminary results indicate blocking the Wnt pathway leads the myelin producing cells to develop much more slowly, and by removing a different section of the pathway he found that too much myelin was produced. This confirms that the Wnt pathway is very important for normal myelin production in the CNS.
With the further help of a grant from the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience Research at his University Dr Gonsalvez has set up a technique called Spectral Reflectance Confocal Microscopy (SRCM). He is one of the first in the world to use this technique and it has allowed him to make some very interesting preliminary discoveries about the way that myelin is layered on axons, and which types of cells are layered first. Ones that control motor function, or ones that control thinking functions. This is an important discovery, as if we can understand how this process occurs under normal circumstance, we can start to discover how we might harness the normal growth of myelin to enhance the repair of myelin in MS. This will be the focus of Dr Gonsalvez’ research this year.