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Science. 2012 Sep 14;337(6100):1357-60. doi: 10.1126/science.1220845.

A critical period for social experience-dependent oligodendrocyte maturation and myelination.

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F. M. Kirby Neurobiology Center, Children's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Early social isolation results in adult behavioral and cognitive dysfunction that correlates with white matter alterations. However, how social deprivation influences myelination and the significance of these myelin defects in the adult remained undefined. We show that mice isolated for 2 weeks immediately after weaning have alterations in prefrontal cortex function and myelination that do not recover with reintroduction into a social environment. These alterations, which occur only during this critical period, are phenocopied by loss of oligodendrocyte ErbB3 receptors, and social isolation leads to reduced expression of the ErbB3 ligand neuregulin-1. These findings indicate that social experience regulates prefrontal cortex myelination through neuregulin-1/ErbB3 signaling and that this is essential for normal cognitive function, thus providing a cellular and molecular context to understand the consequences of social isolation.

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