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Could TROPICAL FISH hold the key to multiple sclerosis? Transparent zebrafish give insight into how nerves work

Submitted by on June 25, 2013 – 9:42 amNo Comment |
The zebrafish, Danio rerio

The zebrafish, Danio rerio

  • Zebrafish offer vital insights into the disease that occurs when the nerve sheath, myelin, breaks down.
  • Myelin is critical for allowing nerve impulses to be transmitted enabling people to walk, talk and see.
  • Studying the fish revealed cells have a very short time period in which to generate this protective coating.
  • This insight could help with the development of new treatments.
Exotic zebrafish could hold the key to the development of new treatments for diseases like multiple sclerosis, Scottish scientists claim. A study into the nervous systems of exotic fish could offer insights into the disease which is caused by a breakdown of the vital nerve sheath, myelin.Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say they have uncovered ‘vital clues’ in the brains of zebrafish – tropical fish of the minnow family – about the way that organisms produce the fatty sheath that insulates and protects nerve fibres.They say fresh insights gained from the study could help understanding of how the nervous system works.Myelin is critical for allowing nerve impulses to be transmitted quickly, enabling the human body to carry out a range of everyday functions such as walking, speaking and seeing.The scientists found that individual cells in the brain and central nervous system have only a very short time period in which to generate this protective coating.It is the first time that scientists have been able to quantify the time frame, which is only a matter of hours.They hope that the results of their studies may one day help the treatment of myelin-related conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

The researchers are now studying how manipulation of genes and the use of drugs might promote myelin formation in zebrafish. Myelin – which is made by specialised cells called oligodendrocytes – is crucial for good health. When myelin breaks down, and is not repaired properly, it can cause numbness, loss of vision and dizziness. It also leads to the debilitating symptoms of diseases such as MS.

MS (pictured) develops when the nerve sheath myelin breaks down. The research could fuel the development of new treatments

MS (pictured) develops when the nerve sheath myelin breaks down. The research could fuel the development of new treatments

Although MS patients have an abundance of oligodendrocytes in their brains, these fail to produce sufficient myelin to bring about repair.

The Edinburgh team used zebrafish in the study because they share more than 80 per cent of the genes associated with human diseases.

The tiny fish also exhibit responses to drugs that are very similar to those of humans.

Young zebrafish are transparent, which allows researchers to look directly into their living nervous system without surgical or physical intervention.

Dr David Lyons, of the university’s Centre for Neuroregeneration, said: ‘To enhance myelin repair, we will need to improve either MS patients’ ability to make myelin during the short time in which they have to do this, or find a way to allow them to produce myelin for a longer period of time.’

The study, which is published in Developmental Cell, was carried out in the Centre for Neuroregeneration in collaboration with the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Source : Daily Mail
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