selected publications

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Clemastine rescues myelination defects and promotes functional recovery in hypoxic brain injury. 

Cree BAC, Niu J, Hoi KK, Zhao C, Caganap SD. Henry RG, Dao DQ, Zollinger DR, Mei F, Shen YA, Franklin RJM, Ullian EM, Xiao L, Chan JR, Fancy SPJ (2017). Clemastine rescues myelination defects and promotes functional recovery in hypoxic brain injury. Brain

Hypoxia can injure brain white matter tracts, comprised of axons and myelinating oligodendrocytes, leading to cerebral palsy in neonates and delayed post-hypoxic leukoencephalopathy (DPHL) in adults. In these conditions, white matter injury can be followed by myelin regeneration, but myelination often fails and is a significant contributor to fixed demyelinated lesions, with ensuing permanent neurological injury. Non-myelinating oligodendrocyte precursor cells are often found in lesions in plentiful numbers, but fail to mature, suggesting oligodendrocyte precursor cell differentiation arrest as a critical contributor to failed myelination in hypoxia. We report a case of an adult patient who developed the rare condition DPHL and made a nearly complete recovery in the setting of treatment with clemastine, a widely available antihistamine that in preclinical models promotes oligodendrocyte precursor cell differentiation. This suggested possible therapeutic benefit in the more clinically prevalent hypoxic injury of newborns, and we demonstrate in murine neonatal hypoxic injury that clemastine dramatically promotes oligodendrocyte precursor cell differentiation, myelination, and improves functional recovery. We show that its effect in hypoxia is oligodendroglial specific via an effect on the M1 muscarinic receptor on oligodendrocyte precursor cells. We propose clemastine as a potential therapy for hypoxic brain injuries associated with white matter injury and oligodendrocyte precursor cell maturation arrest.

 

Oligodendrocyte precursors migrate along vasculature in the developing central nervous system. 

Tsai HH, Niu J, Munji R, Davalos D, Chang J, Zhang H, Tien AC, Kuo CJ, Chan JR, Daneman R, Fancy SP (2016). Oligodendrocyte precursors migrate along vasculature in the developing central nervous system. Science 351: 329-384.

Oligodendrocytes myelinate axons in the central nervous system and develop from oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) that must first migrate extensively during brain and spinal cord development. We show that OPCs require the vasculature as a physical substrate for migration. We observed that OPCs of the embryonic mouse brain and spinal cord, as well as the human cortex, emerge from progenitor domains and associate with the abluminal endothelial surface of nearby blood vessels. Migrating OPCs crawl along and jump between vessels. OPC migration in vivo was disrupted in mice with defective vascular architecture but was normal in mice lacking pericytes. Thus, physical interactions with the vascular endothelium are required for OPC migration. We identify Wnt-Cxcr4 (chemokine receptor 4) signaling in regulation of OPC-endothelial interactions and propose that this signaling coordinates OPC migration with differentiation.

 

Micropillar arrays as a high-throughput screening platform for therapeutics in multiple sclerosis.

Mei F, Fancy SPJ, Shen YA, Niu J, Zhao C, Presley B, Miao E, Lee S, Mayoral SR, Redmond SA, Etxeberria A, Xiao L, Franklin RJM, Green A, Hauser SL, Chan JR (2014). Micropillar arrays as a high-throughput screening platform for therapeutics in multiple sclerosis. Nature Medicine 20: 954-960.

Functional screening for compounds that promote remyelination represents a major hurdle in the development of rational therapeutics for multiple sclerosis. Screening for remyelination is problematic, as myelination requires the presence of axons. Standard methods do not resolve cell-autonomous effects and are not suited for high-throughput formats. Here we describe a binary indicant for myelination using micropillar arrays (BIMA). Engineered with conical dimensions, micropillars permit resolution of the extent and length of membrane wrapping from a single two-dimensional image. Confocal imaging acquired from the base to the tip of the pillars allows for detection of concentric wrapping observed as 'rings' of myelin. The platform is formatted in 96-well plates, amenable to semiautomated random acquisition and automated detection and quantification. Upon screening 1,000 bioactive molecules, we identified a cluster of antimuscarinic compounds that enhance oligodendrocyte differentiation and remyelination. Our findings demonstrate a new high-throughput screening platform for potential regenerative therapeutics in multiple sclerosis.

 

Parallel states of pathological Wnt signaling in neonatal brain injury and colon cancer.

Fancy SP, Harrington EP, Baranzini SE, Silbereis JC, Shiow LR, Yuen TJ, Huang EJ, Lomvardas S, Rowitch DH (2014). Parallel states of pathological Wnt signaling in neonatal brain injury and colon cancer. Nature Neuroscience 17: 506-512. 

In colon cancer, mutation of the Wnt repressor APC (encoding adenomatous polyposis coli) leads to a state of aberrant and unrestricted high-activity signaling. However, the relevance of high Wnt tone in non-genetic human disease is unknown. Here we demonstrate that distinct functional states of Wnt activity determine oligodendrocyte precursor cell (OPC) differentiation and myelination. Mouse OPCs with genetic Wnt dysregulation (high tone) express multiple genes in common with colon cancer, including Lef1Sp5Ets2Rnf43 and Dusp4. Surprisingly, we found that OPCs in lesions of hypoxic human neonatal white matter injury upregulated markers of high Wnt activity and lacked expression of APC. We also found that lack of Wnt repressor tone promoted permanent white matter injury after mild hypoxic insult. These findings suggest a state of pathological high-activity Wnt signaling in human disease tissues that lack predisposing genetic mutation.

 

Axin2 as regulatory and therapeutic target in newborn brain injury and remyelination.

Fancy SP, Harrington EP, Yuen TJ, Silbereis JC, Zhao C, Baranzini SE, Bruce CC, Otero JJ, Huang EJ, Nusse R, Franklin RJ, Rowitch DH (2011). Axin2 as regulatory and therapeutic target in newborn brain injury and remyelination. Nature Neuroscience 14: 1009-1016. 

Permanent damage to white matter tracts, comprising axons and myelinating oligodendrocytes, is an important component of brain injuries of the newborn that cause cerebral palsy and cognitive disabilities, as well as multiple sclerosis in adults. However, regulatory factors relevant in human developmental myelin disorders and in myelin regeneration are unclear. We found that AXIN2 was expressed in immature oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OLPs) in white matter lesions of human newborns with neonatal hypoxic-ischemic and gliotic brain damage, as well as in active multiple sclerosis lesions in adults. Axin2 is a target of Wnt transcriptional activation that negatively feeds back on the pathway, promoting β-catenin degradation. We found that Axin2 function was essential for normal kinetics of remyelination. The small molecule inhibitor XAV939, which targets the enzymatic activity of tankyrase, acted to stabilize Axin2 levels in OLPs from brain and spinal cord and accelerated their differentiation and myelination after hypoxic and demyelinating injury. Together, these findings indicate that Axin2 is an essential regulator of remyelination and that it might serve as a pharmacological checkpoint in this process.

 

Dysregulation of the Wnt pathway inhibits timely myelination and remyelination in the mammalian CNS.

Fancy SP, Baranzini SE, Zhao C, Yuk DI, Irvine KA, Kaing S, Sanai N, Franklin RJ, Rowitch DH (2009). Dysregulation of the Wnt pathway inhibits timely myelination and remyelination in the mammalian CNS. Genes and Development 23: 1571-1585.

The progressive loss of CNS myelin in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) has been proposed to result from the combined effects of damage to oligodendrocytes and failure of remyelination. A common feature of demyelinated lesions is the presence of oligodendrocyte precursors (OLPs) blocked at a premyelinating stage. However, the mechanistic basis for inhibition of myelin repair is incompletely understood. To identify novel regulators of OLP differentiation, potentially dysregulated during repair, we performed a genome-wide screen of 1040 transcription factor-encoding genes expressed in remyelinating rodent lesions. We report that approximately 50 transcription factor-encoding genes show dynamic expression during repair and that expression of the Wnt pathway mediator Tcf4 (aka Tcf7l2) within OLPs is specific to lesioned-but not normal-adult white matter. We report that beta-catenin signaling is active during oligodendrocyte development and remyelination in vivo. Moreover, we observed similar regulation of Tcf4 in the developing human CNS and lesions of MS. Data mining revealed elevated levels of Wnt pathway mRNA transcripts and proteins within MS lesions, indicating activation of the pathway in this pathological context. We show that dysregulation of Wnt-beta-catenin signaling in OLPs results in profound delay of both developmental myelination and remyelination, based on (1) conditional activation of beta-catenin in the oligodendrocyte lineage in vivo and (2) findings from APC(Min) mice, which lack one functional copy of the endogenous Wnt pathway inhibitor APC. Together, our findings indicate that dysregulated Wnt-beta-catenin signaling inhibits myelination/remyelination in the mammalian CNS. Evidence of Wnt pathway activity in human MS lesions suggests that its dysregulation might contribute to inefficient myelin repair in human neurological disorders.

 

bHLH transcription factor Olig1 is required to repair demyelinated lesions in the CNS. 

Arnett HA, Fancy SP, ALberta JA, Zhao C, Plant SR, Kaing S, Raine CS, Rowitch DH, Franklin RJ, Stiles CD (2004). bHLH transcription factor Olig1 is required to repair demyelinated lesions in the CNS. Science 306: 2111-2115.

Olig1 and Olig2 are closely related basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors that are expressed in myelinating oligodendrocytes and their progenitor cells in the developing central nervous system (CNS). Olig2 is necessary for the specification of oligodendrocytes, but the biological functions of Olig1 during oligodendrocyte lineage development are poorly understood. We show here that Olig1 function in mice is required not to develop the brain but to repair it. Specifically, we demonstrate a genetic requirement for Olig1 in repairing the types of lesions that occur in patients with multiple sclerosis.