Production of CNS myelin by oligodendrocytes requires the regulated synthesis and assembly of cytoskeletal components. However, the molecular signals that mediate this process are not known. Here we use the shiverer mutant mouse, which is missing a large segment of the myelin basic protein (MBP) gene, to investigate the possible role in cytoskeletal assembly of an MBP gene product or of other myelin components whose expression may be linked to that of MBP. In axon-free cultures, we find that approximately half of shiverer oligodendrocytes have enlarged cell bodies, abnormal processes and fail to elaborate extensive membrane sheets. In those membrane sheets that are elaborated by shiverer oligodendrocytes, microtubular structures are abnormal in size and distribution. Additionally, 2',3'-cyclic nucleotide 3'-phosphohydrolase and microfilaments are not colocalized with microtubular structures as they would be in mature wild-type membrane sheets. These observations suggest that an MBP gene product has a direct or indirect role in regulating various aspects of cytoskeleton assembly in wild-type oligodendrocytes. In the absence of this signal, oligodendrocytes apparently do not normally assemble cytoskeleton; this may be one important basis for the abnormal morphology of intact shiverer CNS.

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