Novel approaches to central nervous system white matter repair

Principle Investigator: Dr. Freda Miller, University of Toronto

Team Members: Dr. David Kaplan, University of Toronto

Dr. Wolfram Tetzlaff, University of British Columbia

Dr. Samuel Weiss, University of Calgary

Project Overview
Many nerve cells in the body are covered with a protective sheath known as myelin, which allows fast conduction of nerve impulses, and which is produced by two different types of cells called oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells. Demyelination occurs when this protective covering is destroyed, resulting in impaired nerve function. While demyelination is most closely associated with Multiple Sclerosis, it is also implicated in other neurological and psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and spinal cord injuries. The term white matter is used to describe areas of the brain and spinal cord that contain many myelinated nerve fibres, and it is the white matter that is responsible for information transmission in the body.

The goal of this project was to attempt to repair these damaged, demyelinated nerve cells using a stem cell-based approach. In this team’s research, oligodendrocyte and Schwann cell stem cells was transplanted into an injured spinal cord in order to see if remyelination and subsequent improved nerve function will result.


Stem cells are an exciting new source of cells to repair the injured brain and nervous system. The team found that stem cells isolated from the dermis, the layer of skin under the epidermis, can generate nervous system cells that when placed into mice with a spinal cord injury, will restore limb function and movement. The next phase of the project will be to test whether human skin cells can repair the acute and chronically injured spinal cord in animals, the final step prior to clinical trials.


Stem cells from skin can be readily isolated, and these cells from a person with a spinal cord injury will not be rejected as would cells from other people. Skin stem cells are therefore an exciting and promising novel source of accessible cells for the treatment of nerve injuries.


September 5, 2007 Journal of Neuroscience –
Skin-Derived Precursors Generate Myelinating Schwann Cells That Promote Remyelination and Functional Recovery after Contusion Spinal Cord Injury
June 14, 2006 Journal of Neuroscience – 
SKPs generate myelinating Schwann cells for the injured and dysmyelinated nervous system
December 8, 2005 Neuron – 
P63 Is an Essential Proapoptotic Protein during Neural Development