Research fellow studying ways
to increase myelin
A nerve growth factor, known as brain-derived
neurotrophic factor (BDNF), has been found to promote myelination by activating
different receptors on the surface of myelin-producing cells (known as
oligodendrocytes). Working with Dr Simon Murray and Dr Junhua Xiao at the
University of Melbourne, Dr Jessica Fletcher is undertaking a postdoctoral
fellowship supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation, aiming to investigate
the effects when BDNF is switched on inside myelin-producing oligodendrocytes.
BDNF is known to function alongside a number of
other specific chemicals (called Erk1/2) in a chemical ‘pathway’ within cells. Studying
mice with MS-like illness, Dr Fletcher is testing whether the Erk chemicals in
this pathway can work together, following the activation of BDNF, to increase
This project is the first step towards identifying whether
the BDNF pathway may be a useful target for developing new treatments to
promote myelin repair and halt MS disease progression. It is crucial to
identify potential new treatment targets that can promote myelin repair,
prevent nerve damage and halt MS disease progression.
Over the first half of her fellowship in 2015 and
2016 Dr Fletcher has made excellent progress. Dr Fletcher has concentrated on the role of
molecules which are switched on in response to activation of BDNF in myelin
producing cells, known as Erk1/2. Dr Fletcher used animal models of an MS-like
illness to show that activation of Erk1/2 was important for natural repair of
myelin and further that increasing the signalling through the Erk1/2 pathway
promoted the myelin repair.
In a separate series of experiments, Dr Fletcher
has also started to determine the underlying mechanisms used by Erk1/2 at a
molecular level, to try to understand the way that myelin repair is regulated.
This work, together with the work that her colleagues in the laboratory
are doing, is important since identifying the many different molecules that are
involved in myelin repair will provide new targets for the treatment for
progressive MS, to promote myelin repair, prevent nerve damage and halt MS
In a validation of the importance of her findings, Dr
Fletcher has already presented her results at a number of national and
international conferences throughout 2015 and 2016. We await her formally
published findings with great interest.