, Volume 119, Issue 1, pp 37-53,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 22 Oct 2009

Oligodendrocytes: biology and pathology

Abstract

Oligodendrocytes are the myelinating cells of the central nervous system (CNS). They are the end product of a cell lineage which has to undergo a complex and precisely timed program of proliferation, migration, differentiation, and myelination to finally produce the insulating sheath of axons. Due to this complex differentiation program, and due to their unique metabolism/physiology, oligodendrocytes count among the most vulnerable cells of the CNS. In this review, we first describe the different steps eventually culminating in the formation of mature oligodendrocytes and myelin sheaths, as they were revealed by studies in rodents. We will then show differences and similarities of human oligodendrocyte development. Finally, we will lay out the different pathways leading to oligodendrocyte and myelin loss in human CNS diseases, and we will reveal the different principles leading to the restoration of myelin sheaths or to a failure to do so.