How the brain makes myelination activity-dependent
A major question regarding how axons acquire a coat of myelin, is the role of spiking activity. It is known that in culture systems oligodendrocytes will at least try to wrap anything that feels like an axon—even dead axons and artificial tubes. As axons acquire additional layers of myelin they conduct signals faster, and presumably become more efficient. It would therefore seem logical that the nervous system should apportion the most myelin to those neurons that are seeing the greatest activity. In that way the brain gets the most bang for its buck, energetically speaking. A new study in PLOS Biology suggests that while myelination is in many cases activity-independent at first, neurons can significantly ramp things up by flipping various molecular switches, one which appears to be Neuregulin (NRG).