Myelination: an overlooked mechanism of synaptic plasticity?

Neuroscientist. 2005 Dec;11(6):528-31. doi: 10.1177/1073858405282304.


Myelination of the brain continues through childhood into adolescence and early adulthood--the question is, Why? Two new articles provide intriguing evidence that myelination may be an underappreciated mechanism of activity-dependent nervous system plasticity: one study reported increased myelination associated with extensive piano playing, another indicated that rats have increased myelination of the corpus callosum when raised in environments providing increased social interaction and cognitive stimulation. These articles make it clear that activity-dependent effects on myelination cannot be considered strictly a developmental event. They raise the question of whether myelination is an overlooked mechanism of activity-dependent plasticity, extending in humans until at least age 30. It has been argued that regulating the speed of conduction across long fiber tracts would have a major influence on synaptic response, by coordinating the timing of afferent input to maximize temporal summation. The increase in synaptic amplitude could be as large as neurotransmitter-based mechanisms of plasticity, such as LTP. These new findings raise a larger question: How did the oligodendrocytes know they were practicing the piano or that their environment was socially complex?

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Corpus Callosum / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Music
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*