My laboratory studies the cellular and molecular events leading to the formation and maintenance of the myelin membrane in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Our current research is focused on (a) the role of calcium in regulating myelin gene expression and oligodendrocyte survival, (b) the role of cytoskeleton in initiating and maintaining myelin membrane formation, (c) the role of axons in survival of mature oligodendrocytes and maintenance of myelin, and (d) analysis of signaling pathways mediating injury and protection of oligodendroglia. Another project in collaboration with Dr. Robert Lisak analyzes effects of cytokines on differentiation and growth factor production by oligodendrocytes in the CNS and Schwann cells in the PNS.
In multiple sclerosis, neurotrauma and a number of neurologic diseases, cells producing nerve insulation (myelin) in the brain, cord and nerves can be directly killed by immune attack or damaged indirectly by released cytokines and other agents such as nitric oxide. Damage could be decreased if ways could be found to protect CNS and PNS glia from indirect damage so that they maintain their insulating membranes and repair or replace these membranes in neighboring damaged areas. Limiting damage to myelin-producing cells at early stages in local attacks may also prevent the onset and progression of damage to axons and their associated nerve cells before that damage becomes irreversible and results in permanent loss of function.