Nfat/calcineurin signaling promotes oligodendrocyte differentiation and myelination by transcription factor network tuning

Nat Commun. 2018 Mar 2;9(1):899. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03336-3.


Oligodendrocytes produce myelin for rapid transmission and saltatory conduction of action potentials in the vertebrate central nervous system. Activation of the myelination program requires several transcription factors including Sox10, Olig2, and Nkx2.2. Functional interactions among them are poorly understood and important components of the regulatory network are still unknown. Here, we identify Nfat proteins as Sox10 targets and regulators of oligodendroglial differentiation in rodents and humans. Overall levels and nuclear fraction increase during differentiation. Inhibition of Nfat activity impedes oligodendrocyte differentiation in vitro and in vivo. On a molecular level, Nfat proteins cooperate with Sox10 to relieve reciprocal repression of Olig2 and Nkx2.2 as precondition for oligodendroglial differentiation and myelination. As Nfat activity depends on calcium-dependent activation of calcineurin signaling, regulatory network and oligodendroglial differentiation become sensitive to calcium signals. NFAT proteins are also detected in human oligodendrocytes, downregulated in active multiple sclerosis lesions and thus likely relevant in demyelinating disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcineurin / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism*
  • NFATC Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Oligodendrocyte Transcription Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglia / cytology*
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • SOXE Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Zebrafish Proteins


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • NFATC Transcription Factors
  • Nkx2.2 protein
  • Olig2 protein, mouse
  • Oligodendrocyte Transcription Factor 2
  • SOXE Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • Calcineurin