Astrocytes are central in the pathomechanisms of vanishing white matter

J Clin Invest. 2016 Apr 1;126(4):1512-24. doi: 10.1172/JCI83908. Epub 2016 Mar 14.


Vanishing white matter (VWM) is a fatal leukodystrophy that is caused by mutations in genes encoding subunits of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2B (eIF2B). Disease onset and severity are codetermined by genotype. White matter astrocytes and oligodendrocytes are almost exclusively affected; however, the mechanisms of VWM development remain unclear. Here, we used VWM mouse models, patients' tissue, and cell cultures to investigate whether astrocytes or oligodendrocytes are the primary affected cell type. We generated 2 mouse models with mutations (Eif2b5Arg191His/Arg191His and Eif2b4Arg484Trp/Arg484Trp) that cause severe VWM in humans and then crossed these strains to develop mice with various mutation combinations. Phenotypic severity was highly variable and dependent on genotype, reproducing the clinical spectrum of human VWM. In all mutant strains, impaired maturation of white matter astrocytes preceded onset and paralleled disease severity and progression. Bergmann glia and retinal Müller cells, nonforebrain astrocytes that have not been associated with VWM, were also affected, and involvement of these cells was confirmed in VWM patients. In coculture, VWM astrocytes secreted factors that inhibited oligodendrocyte maturation, whereas WT astrocytes allowed normal maturation of VWM oligodendrocytes. These studies demonstrate that astrocytes are central in VWM pathomechanisms and constitute potential therapeutic targets. Importantly, astrocytes should also be considered in the pathophysiology of other white matter disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Astrocytes / pathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2B / genetics
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2B / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukoencephalopathies / genetics
  • Leukoencephalopathies / metabolism*
  • Leukoencephalopathies / pathology
  • Leukoencephalopathies / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglia / pathology
  • White Matter / metabolism*
  • White Matter / pathology
  • White Matter / physiopathology


  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2B