Bioinformatics; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Neurobiology
My laboratory seeks to understand the transcriptional regulatory network governing the differentiation of oligodendrocytes and central nervous system (CNS) myelination, with the long-term goal of translating this knowledge into the treatment of demyelinating diseases. CNS myelination by oligodendrocytes is important not only for saltatory conduction of action potentials but also for trophic support of nerve axons. An improved understanding of how the differentiation of oligodendrocytes is regulated for CNS myelination should provide a firm basis on which to develop more effective therapeutics for demyelinating diseases. Toward this goal, we are currently pursuing two different research directions.
The first is to elucidate the functional mechanism of Myrf, a key transcription factor for CNS myelination. Conditional knockout mice in which Myrf is knocked out in the oligodendrocyte lineage cells completely fail to develop CNS myelin and exhibit severe neurological symptoms, eventually prematurely dying. Recently, we and the Emery laboratory have independently made the surprising discovery that Myrf is generated as an integral membrane protein that is auto-cleaved by its ICA domain into two fragments. This discovery invokes a number of fundamental questions about how Myrf drives the differentiation of oligodendrocytes for CNS myelination. We employ both computational and experimental laboratory methodologies to elucidate the functional mechanism of Myrf.
The second direction is to identify new transcription factors for CNS myelination. By taking advantage of our computational expertise, we have performed integrated computational analysis of functional genomics data that are publicly available to predict a number of new transcription factors for oligodendrocyte differentiation. We are currently characterizing them using primary oligodendrocyte cultures. Promising hits will be further analyzed by generating knockout mice to test for in vivo relevance.