Receiving mixed signals: uncoupling oligodendrocyte differentiation and myelination

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2007 Dec;64(23):3059-68. doi: 10.1007/s00018-007-7265-x.


The development and maturation of an oligodendroglial cell is comprised of three intimately related processes that include proliferation, differentiation, and myelination. Here we review how proliferation and differentiation are controlled by distinct molecular mechanisms and discuss whether differentiation is merely a default of inhibited proliferation. We then address whether differentiation and myelination can be uncoupled in a similar manner. This task is particularly challenging because an oligodendrocyte cannot myelinate without first differentiating, and these processes are therefore not mutually exclusive. Is it solely the presence of the axon that distinguishes a differentiated oligodendrocyte from a myelinating one? Uncoupling these two processes requires identifying specific signals that regulate myelination without affecting the differentiation process. We will review current understanding of the relationship between differentiation and myelination and discuss whether these two processes can truly be uncoupled.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Humans
  • Myelin Proteins / metabolism*
  • Oligodendroglia / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / physiology


  • Myelin Proteins