AMAZING PAPERS IN NEUROSCIENCE: Remyelination and Ageing: Ethical Considerations of Using Surgically Joined Animals in Research

Christy M. Horn, Nona Pop, and Michael Anderson
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St. Andrews, St, Andrews, United Kingdom, KY16 9JP.

Remyelination is a key repair process that ensures neurons remain protected following injury. This process is mediated by remyelinating oligodendrocytes in vertebrates, however, similarly to other neurobiological processes, the rate and efficiency of remyelination decreases across age and under pathological conditions. This has largely been attributed to two main contributors: 1) decreased exogenous signals supporting remyelination; and 2) aging of precursor cells that no longer differentiate into remyelinating oligodendrocytes. Here we discuss a key paper by Ruckh et al. (2012) who presented novel evidence that exposure to soluble bloodstream factors of young mice significantly rescues remyelination in old mice following a demyelinating insult. In this paper, a parabiosis approach was used where young and old mice were surgically joined for three weeks before and then left as a pair throughout the experiment. Ruckh and colleagues also offer novel insight into the role played by immune system cells, specifically macrophages, in clearance of myelin debris, a further  contributor to remyelination. This paper is a good tool to expose undergraduate neuroscience students to basic molecular processes underlying conduction and transmission, helping them link cellular and network components. It also offers a platform for introducing the practicalities of in vivo research and debating ethical controversies that arise in animal research.