Does stimulating brain activity improve myelin repair?

Dr Tobias Merson, Monash University Victoria, was awarded a Project Grant over 2017-2018, funded by the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation, his Co-Investigator being Dr Stanislaw Mitew.

Dr Merson’s team have shown that increasing the electrical activity of nerve fibres in brain tissue that is not affected by MS enhances the laying down of myelin on these nerve fibres and other research has recently shown that blocking electrical activity in lesions within the MS brain reduces the brain’s ability to repair the lost myelin

In this project, Dr Merson has explored two different ways to increase the electrical activity in nerve cells and assessed what impact this increase has on the repair of myelin damage to nerve fibres in a laboratory model of MS. The first way Dr Merson and his team enhanced activity was by introducing a specific protein into the nerve cells, followed by administering a drug, this combination increased the number of electrical impulses the nerve cells produced. The second way they achieved it, was through increased physical exercise which also resulted in an increased number of electrical impulses.

Dr Merson and his team has found that increasing the electrical activity in nerve cells led to an increase in myelin density and an increase in density of myelin producing cells around the damaged nerves. Interestingly, when electrical stimulation was applied this occurred immediately in the weeks following the loss of myelin, but eventually the group which didn’t have increased electrical stimulation caught up and had similar levels of myelin density and density of myelin producing cells. These results suggest that electrical stimulation does have effect on myelination following an MS-like attack, in that it may enhance the speed in which myelin is replaced.

The success of this grant has contributed to Dr Merson successfully securing over $1 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council to expand this work and to explore how electrical stimulation might be aiding and accelerating the speed in which the myelin can be repaired in MS.