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Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Jun;61(3):267-304.

Myelin synthesis in the peripheral nervous system.

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Laboratoire de Biogenèse Membranaire, CNRS-UMR 5544, Université Victor Segalen, Bordeaux 2, 146, Rue Leo Saignat, Case 92, 33076, Bordeaux Cedex, France.


By imposing saltatory conduction on the nervous impulse, the principal role of the myelin sheath is to allow the faster propagation of action potentials along the axons which it surrounds. Peripheral nervous system (PNS) myelin is formed by the differentiation of the plasma membrane of Schwann cells. One of the biochemical characteristics that distinguishes myelin from other biological membranes is its high lipid-to-protein ratio. All the major lipid classes are represented in the myelin membrane, while several myelin-specific proteins have been identified. During development, the presence of axons is required for the initiation of myelination, but the nature of the axonal signal is still unknown. The only certainties are that this signal is synthesized by axons whose diameter is greater than 0.7 microm, and that the signal(s) include(s) a diffusible molecule. Morphological studies have provided us with information concerning the timing of myelination, the mechanism by which immature Schwann cells differentiate into a myelinating phenotype and lay down the myelin sheath around the axon, and the accumulation and the structure of the myelin membrane. The last 20 years have seen the identification and the cDNA and gene cloning of the major PNS myelin proteins, which signalled the beginning of the knock-out decade: transgenic null-mutant mice have been created for almost every protein gene. The study of these animals shows that the formation of myelin is considerably less sensitive to molecular alterations than the maintenance of myelin. During the same period, important data has been gathered concerning the synthesis and function of lipids in PNS myelin, although this field has received relatively little attention compared with that of their protein counterparts.

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