What is a Myelin?


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Source: OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Myelinating glia wrap several layers of cell membrane around the cell membrane of an axon segment. A single Schwann cell insulates a segment of a peripheral nerve, whereas in the CNS, an oligodendrocyte may provide insulation for a few separate axon segments. EM × 1,460,000. (Micrograph provided by the Regents of University of Michigan Medical School © 2012)

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

The insulation for axons in the nervous system is provided by glial cells, oligodendrocytes in the CNS, and Schwann cells in the PNS. Whereas the manner in which either cell is associated with the axon segment, or segments, that it insulates is different, the means of myelinating an axon segment is mostly the same in the two situations. Myelin is a lipid-rich sheath that surrounds the axon and by doing so creates a myelin sheath that facilitates the transmission of electrical signals along the axon. The lipids are essentially the phospholipids of the glial cell membrane. Myelin, however, is more than just the membrane of the glial cell. It also includes important proteins that are integral to that membrane. Some of the proteins help to hold the layers of the glial cell membrane closely together.

The appearance of the myelin sheath can be thought of as similar to the pastry wrapped around a hot dog for “pigs in a blanket” or a similar food. The glial cell is wrapped around the axon several times with little to no cytoplasm between the glial cell layers. For oligodendrocytes, the rest of the cell is separate from the myelin sheath as a cell process extends back toward the cell body. A few other processes provide the same insulation for other axon segments in the area. For Schwann cells, the outermost layer of the cell membrane contains cytoplasm and the nucleus of the cell as a bulge on one side of the myelin sheath. During development, the glial cell is loosely or incompletely wrapped around the axon. The edges of this loose enclosure extend toward each other, and one end tucks under the other. The inner edge wraps around the axon, creating several layers, and the other edge closes around the outside so that the axon is completely enclosed.

Myelin sheaths can extend for one or two millimeters, depending on the diameter of the axon. Axon diameters can be as small as 1 to 20 micrometers. Because a micrometer is 1/1000 of a millimeter, this means that the length of a myelin sheath can be 100–1000 times the diameter of the axon. Figure 12.8, Figure 12.11, and Figure 12.12 show the myelin sheath surrounding an axon segment, but are not to scale. If the myelin sheath were drawn to scale, the neuron would have to be immense—possibly covering an entire wall of the room in which you are sitting.

Myelin sheaths can extend for one or two millimeters, depending on the diameter of the axon. Axon diameters can be as small as 1 to 20 micrometers. Because a micrometer is 1/1000 of a millimeter, this means that the length of a myelin sheath can be 100–1000 times the diameter of the axon. If the myelin sheath were drawn to scale, the neuron would have to be immense—possibly covering an entire wall of the room in which you are sitting.


Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology


PubMed Research Articles Related To Myelin Sheath

Molecular insight into neurodegeneration – Langmuir monolayer study on the influence of oxysterols on model myelin sheath

Systematic studies on the influence of selected ring-oxidized (7α-hydroxycholesterol, 7α-OH; 7β-hydroxycholesterol, 7β-OH; 7-ketocholesterol, 7-K) and chain-oxidized (25-OH) sterols on lipid layer of myelin were performed. Myelin sheath was modeled as five-component Langmuir monolayer (Chol:PE:SM:PS:PC 50:20:12:9:9). Particular oxysterols have been incorporated into the model myelin sheath by replacing cholesterol totally or partially (1:1). The effect of oxysterol incorporation was characterized with surface pressure and electric surface potential – area isotherms and visualized with Brewster angle microscopy (BAM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). It has been noticed that model myelin loses its homogeneous structure (due to the appearance of domains) at physiological bilayer conditions (30-35 mN/m). In the presence of oxysterols, the fluidity of myelin model increases and the organization of lipids is altered, which is reflected in the decrease of electric surface potential changes (ΔV). The strongest myelin/oxysterol interactions have been observed for 7-K and 25-OH, being the most cytotoxic oxysterols found in biological tests.

Keywords: Demyelination; Langmuir films; Membrane models; Myelin; Oxysterols.


Inhibition of RhoA/ROCK Pathway in the Early Stage of Hypoxia Ameliorates Depression in Mice via Protecting Myelin Sheath

Neuroplasticity and connectivity in the central nervous system (CNS) are easily damaged after hypoxia. Long-term exposure to an anoxic environment can lead to neuropsychiatric symptoms and increases the likelihood of depression. Demyelination is an important lesion of CNS injury that may occur in depression. Previous studies have found that the RhoA/ROCK pathway is upregulated in neuropsychiatric disorders such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, the chief aim of this study is to explore the regulatory role of the RhoA/ROCK pathway in the development of depression after hypoxia by behavioral tests, Western blotting, immunostaining as well as electron microscopy. Results showed that HIF-1α, S100β, RhoA/ROCK, and immobility time in FST were increased, sucrose water preference ratio in SPT was decreased, and the aberrant activity of neurocyte and demyelination occurred after hypoxia. After the administration of Y-27632 and fluoxetine in hypoxia, these alterations were improved. Lingo1, a negative regulatory factor, was also overexpressed after hypoxia and its expression was decreased when the pathway blocked. However, fluoxetine had no effect on the expression of Lingo1. Then, we demonstrated that demyelination was associated with failures of oligodendrocyte precursor cell proliferation and differentiation and increased apoptosis of oligodendrocytes. Collectively, our data indicate that the RhoA/ROCK pathway plays a vital role in the initial depression during hypoxia. Blocking this pathway in the early stage of hypoxia can enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants, rescue myelin damage, and reduce the expression of the negative regulatory protein of myelination. The findings provide new insight into the prophylaxis and treatment of depression.

Keywords: Hypoxia; RhoA/ROCK; demyelination; depression.


A myelin sheath protein forming its lattice

The formation of a mature, multilayered myelin sheath requires the compaction of lipid bilayers, but the molecular mechanism by which these bilayers condense is an open question. In this issue, Ruskamo et al. find that peripheral myelin protein P2 forms an ordered three-dimensional lattice within model membranes using Escherichia coli polar lipid liposomes. These data will help to understand the assembly, function, and structure of the myelin sheath.


The lipid component of Alzheimer’s disease research: An Editorial Highlight for “Brain region-specific amyloid plaque-associated myelin lipid loss, APOE deposition and disruption of the myelin sheath in familial Alzheimer’s disease mice” on page 84

It may not be surprising that the brain as a lipid-rich organ shows perturbed lipid profiles in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. It is, however, more challenging to detect these changes as they may only occur in a spatially small area. This Editorial highlights the work by Kaya et al. using a raising technology called MALDI IMS to identify up- or downregulation of specific lipids in and around the amyloid plaque, one of the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, such lipid changes were paralleled with disrupted myelin structure only at the border between white and gray matter. The sequestration of apolipoprotein E towards the amyloid plaque may provide a clue towards the underlying mechanisms leading to disrupted lipid profiles. This study highlights the necessity to increase research activities related to lipid metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease and demonstrates that the technological progress now facilitates the advancement of this area.

Keywords: Alzheimer; amyloid plaque; apolipoprotein E ApoE; imaging mass spectrometry; lipid analyses; myelin; sulfatides.


Biofabrication of nerve fibers with mimetic myelin sheath-like structure and aligned fibrous niche

Nerve tissues contain hierarchically ordered nerve fibers, while each of the nerve fibers has nano-oriented fibrous extracellular matrix and a core-shell structure of tubular myelin sheath with elongated axons encapsulated. Here, we report, for the first time, a ready approach to fabricate biomimetic nerve fibers which are oriented and have a core-shell structure to spatially encapsulate two types of cells, neurons and Schwann cells. A microfluidic system was designed and assembled, which contained a coaxial triple-channel chip and a stretching loading device. Alginate was used first to assist the fabrication, which was washed away afterwards. The orientation of the biomimetic nerve fibers was optimized by the control of the compositions of methacrylate hyaluronan and fibrin, together with the parameters of microfluidic shearing and external stretching. Also, neurons and Schwann cells, which were respectively located in the core and shell of the fibers, displayed advanced biologic functions, including neurogenesis and myelinating maturation. We demonstrate that the neural performance is relatively good, compared to that resulted from individually encapsulated in single-layer microfibers. The present study brings insights to fabricate biomimetic nerve fibers for their potential in neuroscience research and nerve regeneration. Moreover, the present methodology on the fabrication of oriented fibers with different types of cells separately encapsulated should be applicable to biomimetic constructions of various tissues.


[Electroacupuncture promotes regeneration and repair of myelin sheath of corpus callosum in demyelination mice]

Objective: To explore the mechanism of electroacupuncture (EA) in accelerating the aggregation of microglia and promoting the remyelination at the location of demyelination.

Methods: C57BL/6 mice were randomly divided into 4 groups: normal, control, model (LPC) and LPC+EA. The demyelination model was established by microinjection of Lysolecithin (LPC, 1 µL) into the left corpus callosum. EA (2 Hz/15 Hz, 2-4 mA) was applied to “Baihui”(GV20)and “Zhiyang”(GV9)for 30 min,once daily for 3 days, then, once every other day for 18 days. Immuno-fluorescence staining was used to observe the expression of myelin basic protein (MBP) and Axl tyrosine kinase receptor (Axl), Iba1 and numbers of Olig2-positive oligodendrocytes in the corpus callosum. Western blot was employed to detect the expression of MBP in the corpus callosum, and Oil Red O staining was used to observe changes of number of myelin pieces.

Results: Following modeling, the expression levels of MBP on day 5 and 10 after modeling were significantly decreased (P<0.05, P<0.01), Iba1 expression and Olig2-positive oligodendrocyte numbers on day 10 apparently increased (P<0.001, P<0.01). On day 21 after modeling, the levels of the above mentioned indexes returned to normal. After EA intervention, the levels of MBP expression on day 5 and 10, Axl, Iba1 protein expression and Olig2-positive oligodendrocyte numbers on day 5 were markedly increased (P<0.001,P<0.01,P<0.05), while Iba1 expression on day 10 was considerably decreased in comparison with the model group (P<0.01).Oil Red O staining showed that on day 5 after modeling, the number of red lipid droplets were obviously increased in the corpus callosum tissue on the injection side, and apparently reduced in the EA group, suggesting a clearance of the accumulated myelin fragments by EA.

Conclusion: EA intervention may reduce myelin debris and promote the aggregation of microglial cells and oligodendrocytes to the injured site, accelerate the myelin regeneration and up-regulate the expression of MBP and Axl of corpus callosum in demyelination mice.

Keywords: Corpus callosum; Electroacupuncture; Microglia; Myelin regeneration; Oligodendrocytes.


Brain region-specific amyloid plaque-associated myelin lipid loss, APOE deposition and disruption of the myelin sheath in familial Alzheimer’s disease mice

There is emerging evidence that amyloid beta (Aβ) aggregates forming neuritic plaques lead to impairment of the lipid-rich myelin sheath and glia. In this study, we examined focal myelin lipid alterations and the disruption of the myelin sheath associated with amyloid plaques in a widely used familial Alzheimer’s disease (AD) mouse model; 5xFAD. This AD mouse model has Aβ42 peptide-rich plaque deposition in the brain parenchyma. Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization imaging mass spectrometry of coronal brain tissue sections revealed focal Aβ plaque-associated depletion of multiple myelin-associated lipid species including sulfatides, galactosylceramides, and specific plasmalogen phopshatidylethanolamines in the hippocampus, cortex, and on the edges of corpus callosum. Certain phosphatidylcholines abundant in myelin were also depleted in amyloid plaques on the edges of corpus callosum. Further, lysophosphatidylethanolamines and lysophosphatidylcholines, implicated in neuroinflammation, were found to accumulate in amyloid plaques. Double staining of the consecutive sections with fluoromyelin and amyloid-specific antibody revealed amyloid plaque-associated myelin sheath disruption on the edges of the corpus callosum which is specifically correlated with plaque-associated myelin lipid loss only in this region. Further, apolipoprotein E, which is implicated in depletion of sulfatides in AD brain, is deposited in all the Aβ plaques which suggest apolipoprotein E might mediate sulfatide depletion as a consequence of an immune response to Aβ deposition. This high-spatial resolution matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization imaging mass spectrometry study in combination with (immuno) fluorescence staining of 5xFAD mouse brain provides new understanding of morphological, molecular and immune signatures of Aβ plaque pathology-associated myelin lipid loss and myelin degeneration in a brain region-specific manner. Read the Editorial Highlight for this article on page 7.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; MALDI Imaging Mass Spectrometry; amyloid plaques; apolipoprotein E (APOE); myelin lipids; sulfatides.