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Development. 1998 Sep;125(18):3709-18.

Thyroid hormone affects Schwann cell and oligodendrocyte gene expression at the glial transition zone of the VIIIth nerve prior to cochlea function.

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University of Tübingen, Department of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, Tübingen Centre for Hearing Research, Röntgenweg 11, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany.


All cranial nerves, as well as the VIIIth nerve which invades the cochlea, have a proximal end in which myelin is formed by Schwann cells and a distal end which is surrounded by oligodendrocytes. The question which arises in this context is whether peripheral and central parts of these nerves myelinate simultaneously or subsequently and whether the myelination of either of the parts occurs simultaneously at the onset of the cochlea function and under the control of neuronal activity. In the present paper, we examined the relative time course of the myelinogenesis of the distal part of the VIIIth nerve by analyzing the expression of peripheral protein P0, proteolipid protein and myelin basic protein. To our surprise, we observed that the expression of myelin markers in the peripheral and central part of the intradural part of the VIIIth nerve started simultaneously, from postnatal day 2 onwards, long before the onset of cochlea function. The expression rapidly achieved saturation levels on the approach to postnatal day 12, the day on which the cochlea function commenced. Because of its importance for the neuronal and morphological maturation of the cochlea during this time, an additional role of thyroid hormone in cochlear myelinogenesis was considered. Indeed, it transpires that this hormone ensures the rapid accomplishment of glial gene expression, not only in the central but also in the peripheral part of the cochlea. Furthermore, an analysis of the thyroid hormone receptors, TRaplha and TRbeta, indicates that TRbeta is necessary for myelinogenesis of the VIIIth nerve. Rapid thyroid hormone-dependent saturation of myelin marker gene expression in Schwann cells and oligodendrocytes of the VIIIth nerve may guarantee nerve conduction and synchronized impulse transmission at the onset of hearing. The thyroid hormone-dependent commencement of nerve conduction is discussed in connection with the patterning refinement of central auditory pathways and the acquisition of deafness.

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