Dynamics of oligodendrocyte generation and myelination in the human brain

Cell. 2014 Nov 6;159(4):766-74. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.10.011.


The myelination of axons by oligodendrocytes has been suggested to be modulated by experience, which could mediate neural plasticity by optimizing the performance of the circuitry. We have assessed the dynamics of oligodendrocyte generation and myelination in the human brain. The number of oligodendrocytes in the corpus callosum is established in childhood and remains stable after that. Analysis of the integration of nuclear bomb test-derived (14)C revealed that myelin is exchanged at a high rate, whereas the oligodendrocyte population in white matter is remarkably stable in humans, with an annual exchange of 1/300 oligodendrocytes. We conclude that oligodendrocyte turnover contributes minimally to myelin modulation in human white matter and that this instead may be carried out by mature oligodendrocytes, which may facilitate rapid neural plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Corpus Callosum / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism*
  • White Matter / chemistry
  • White Matter / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Carbon Isotopes