Keeping the ageing brain wired: a role for purine signalling in regulating cellular metabolism in oligodendrocyte progenitors

Andrea D. Rivera, Irene Chacon-De-La-Rocha, Francesca Pieropan, Maria Papanikolau, Kasum Azim, Arthur M. Butt

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White matter (WM) is a highly prominent feature in the human cerebrum and is comprised of bundles of myelinated axons that form the connectome of the brain. Myelin is formed by oligodendrocytes and is essential for rapid neuronal electrical communication that underlies the massive computing power of the human brain. Oligodendrocytes are generated throughout life by oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), which are identified by expression of the chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan NG2 (Cspg4), and are often termed NG2-glia. Adult NG2+ OPCs are slowly proliferating cells that have the stem cell–like property of self-renewal and differentiation into a pool of ‘late OPCs’ or ‘differentiation committed’ OPCs(COPs) identified by specific expression of the G-protein-coupled receptor GPR17, which are capable of differentiation into myelinating oligodendrocytes. In the adult brain, these reservoirs of OPCs and COPs ensure rapid myelination of new neuronal connections formed in response to neuronal signalling, which underpins learning and cognitive function. However, there is an age-related decline in myelination that is associated with a loss of neuronal function and cognitive decline. The underlying causes of myelin loss in ageing are manifold, but a key factor is the decay in OPC ‘stemness’ and a decline in their replenishment of COPs, which results in the ultimate failure of myelin regeneration. These changes in ageing OPCs are underpinned by dysregulation of neuronal signalling and OPC metabolic function. Here, we highlight the role of purine signalling in regulating OPC self-renewal and the potential importance of GPR17 and the P2X7 receptor subtype in age-related changes in OPC metabolism. Moreover, age is the main factor in the failure of myelination in chronic multiple sclerosis and myelin loss in Alzheimer’s disease, hence understanding the importance of purine signalling in OPC regeneration and myelination is critical for developing new strategies for promoting repair in age-dependent neuropathology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-783
JournalPflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology
Early online date13 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • RCUK
  • BB/M029379/1
  • MRC
  • MR/P025811/1


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