Down syndrome (DS), or trisomy 21, is the most prevalent chromosomal anomaly accounting for cognitive impairment and intellectual disability (ID). Neuropathological changes of DS brains are characterized by a reduction in the number of neurons and oligodendrocytes, accompanied by hypomyelination and astrogliosis. Recent studies mainly focused on neuronal development in DS, but underestimated the role of glial cells as pathogenic players. Aberrant or impaired differentiation within the oligodendroglial lineage and altered white matter functionality are thought to contribute to central nervous system (CNS) malformations. Given that white matter, comprised of oligodendrocytes and their myelin sheaths, is vital for higher brain function, gathering knowledge about pathways and modulators challenging oligodendrogenesis and cell lineages within DS is essential. This review article discusses to what degree DS-related effects on oligodendroglial cells have been described and presents collected evidence regarding induced cell-fate switches, thereby resulting in an enhanced generation of astrocytes. Moreover, alterations in white matter formation observed in mouse and human post-mortem brains are described. Finally, the rationale for a better understanding of pathways and modulators responsible for the glial cell imbalance as a possible source for future therapeutic interventions is given based on current experience on pro-oligodendroglial treatment approaches developed for demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.
Keywords: down syndrome; glial fate; white matter.