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It takes two to remyelinate: A bioengineered platform to study astrocyte-oligodendrocyte crosstalk and potential therapeutic targets in remyelination
Daniela N. Rocha, Eva D. Carvalho, Liliana R. Pires, Chiara Gardin, Ilaria Zanolla, Piotr K. Szewcyk, Claudia Machado, Rui Fernandes, Urszula Stachewicz, Barbara Zavan, Joao B. Revlas, Ana P. Pego
Polymer microfibres, Oligodendrocyte, Myelination, Alginate hydrogel, Astrogliosis, RhoA
The loss of the myelin sheath insulating axons is the hallmark of demyelinating diseases. These pathologies often lead to irreversible neurological impairment and patient disability. No effective therapies are currently available to promote remyelination.
Several elements contribute to the inadequacy of remyelination, thus understanding the intricacies of the cellular and signaling microenvironment of the remyelination niche might help us to devise better strategies to enhance remyelination.
Here, using a new in vitro rapid myelinating artificial axon system based on engineered microfibres, we investigated how reactive astrocytes influence oligodendrocyte (OL) differentiation and myelination ability. This artificial axon culture system enables the effective uncoupling of molecular cues from the biophysical properties of the axons, allowing the detailed study of the astrocyte-OL crosstalk. Oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) were cultured on poly(trimethylene carbonate-co-ε-caprolactone) copolymer electrospun microfibres that served as surrogate axons. This platform was then combined with a previously established tissue engineered glial scar model of astrocytes embedded in 1 % (w/v) alginate matrices, in which astrocyte reactive phenotype was acquired using meningeal fibroblast conditioned medium.
OPCs were shown to adhere to uncoated engineered microfibres and differentiate into myelinating OL. Reactive astrocytes were found to significantly impair OL differentiation ability, after six and eight days in a co-culture system. Differentiation impairment was seen to be correlated with astrocytic miRNA release through exosomes. We found significantly reduction on the expression of pro-myelinating miRNAs (miR-219 and miR-338) and an increase in anti-myelinating miRNA (miR-125a-3p) content between reactive and quiescent astrocytes. Additionally, we show that OPC differentiation inhibition could be reverted by rescuing the activated astrocytic phenotype with ibuprofen, a chemical inhibitor of the small rhoGTPase RhoA.
Overall, these findings show that modulating astrocytic function might be an interesting therapeutic avenue for demyelinating diseases. The use of these engineered microfibres as an artificial axon culture system will enable the screening for potential therapeutic agents that promote OL differentiation and myelination while providing valuable insight on the myelination/remyelination processes.