Negative regulation of myelination: relevance for development, injury, and demyelinating disease

Glia. 2008 Nov 1;56(14):1552-65. doi: 10.1002/glia.20761.


Dedifferentiation of myelinating Schwann cells is a key feature of nerve injury and demyelinating neuropathies. We review recent evidence that this dedifferentiation depends on activation of specific intracellular signaling molecules that drive the dedifferentiation program. In particular, we discuss the idea that Schwann cells contain negative transcriptional regulators of myelination that functionally complement positive regulators such as Krox-20, and that myelination is therefore determined by a balance between two opposing transcriptional programs. Negative transcriptional regulators should be expressed prior to myelination, downregulated as myelination starts but reactivated as Schwann cells dedifferentiate following injury. The clearest evidence for a factor that works in this way relates to c-Jun, while other factors may include Notch, Sox-2, Pax-3, Id2, Krox-24, and Egr-3. The role of cell-cell signals such as neuregulin-1 and cytoplasmic signaling pathways such as the extracellular-related kinase (ERK)1/2 pathway in promoting dedifferentiation of myelinating cells is also discussed. We also review evidence that neurotrophin 3 (NT3), purinergic signaling, and nitric oxide synthase are involved in suppressing myelination. The realization that myelination is subject to negative as well as positive controls contributes significantly to the understanding of Schwann cell plasticity. Negative regulators are likely to have a major role during injury, because they promote the transformation of damaged nerves to an environment that fosters neuronal survival and axonal regrowth. In neuropathies, however, activation of these pathways is likely to be harmful because they may be key contributors to demyelination, a situation which would open new routes for clinical intervention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Demyelinating Diseases / genetics
  • Demyelinating Diseases / metabolism*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / physiopathology
  • Down-Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Growth Inhibitors / genetics
  • Growth Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Myelin Sheath / genetics
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / metabolism*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Nerve Regeneration / genetics
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries*
  • Peripheral Nerves / growth & development
  • Peripheral Nerves / metabolism*
  • Schwann Cells / cytology
  • Schwann Cells / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Growth Inhibitors
  • Transcription Factors