The discovery of the switch operation mechanism of the myelin sheath opens new possibilities for treating diseases such as multiple sclerosis, highly debilitating disorder that affects about 400 000 people in Europe, mostly women. It will be possible in future to develop a treatment that favors the formation of this sheath in patients who have lost because of infection, damage, or genetic defects. The research, published in the journal 'Nature Neuroscience', was made possible thanks to the fellowship program Seniors 'Rita Levi Montalcini' of the IMF (Italian Multiple Sclerosis foundation). To proceed with this type of study, was created at the INSPE (Institute of Experimental Neurology), directed by Giancarlo Comi San Raffaele hospital in Milan, a new laboratory (Axo-Glial), the first funded by the Italian Multiple Sclerosis (Aism) and its Foundation and dedicated to the study of the processes of demyelination and remielizzazione, fundamental in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis.
The new laboratory is directed by Carla Taveggia, the first awardee in 2007 of the bag 'Rita Levi-Montalcini Building a career'. The myelin, known as 'white matter' of the nervous system, is a highly specialized membrane that surrounds nerve fibers in the central and peripheral nervous system and is necessary for rapid conduction of nerve impulses. The conduction of nerve impulses of myelinated nerves - the researchers of the San Raffaele - is in fact about 100 times faster than that of non-myelinated nerves. The formation of the myelin sheath is tightly controlled and its absence or its degeneration may have a significant impact on quality of life of patients and, in more severe cases, also shorten life expectancy.Diseases of myelin may be genetic in origin, as in the case of peripheral neuropathy or severe hereditary forms of leukodystrophy of the central nervous system.