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Dev Neurobiol. 2011 Nov;71(11):924-55. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20966.

Glia unglued: how signals from the extracellular matrix regulate the development of myelinating glia.

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Department of Pharmacology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794, USA.


The health and function of the nervous system relies on glial cells that ensheath neuronal axons with a specialized plasma membrane termed myelin. The molecular mechanisms by which glial cells target and enwrap axons with myelin are only beginning to be elucidated, yet several studies have implicated extracellular matrix proteins and their receptors as being important extrinsic regulators. This review provides an overview of the extracellular matrix proteins and their receptors that regulate multiple steps in the cellular development of Schwann cells and oligodendrocytes, the myelinating glia of the PNS and CNS, respectively, as well as in the construction and maintenance of the myelin sheath itself. The first part describes the relevant cellular events that are influenced by particular extracellular matrix proteins and receptors, including laminins, collagens, integrins, and dystroglycan. The second part describes the signaling pathways and effector molecules that have been demonstrated to be downstream of Schwann cell and oligodendroglial extracellular matrix receptors, including FAK, small Rho GTPases, ILK, and the PI3K/Akt pathway, and the roles that have been ascribed to these signaling mediators. Throughout, we emphasize the concept of extracellular matrix proteins as environmental sensors that act to integrate, or match, cellular responses, in particular to those downstream of growth factors, to appropriate matrix attachment.

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