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Oligodendrocytes are the glial cells responsible for myelinating axons in the central nervous system (CNS). Each oligodendrocyte myelinates up to 50 separate axons. In addition to myelination, oligodendrocytes can also influence neuron survival, axon transport, axon caliber, and ion channel clustering along axons. Oligodendrocyte injury and dysfunction underlies the development of many diseases and disorders including multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Oligodendrocytes are derived from precursor cells, called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), that originate from the ventral neuroepithelium. These cells are highly proliferative and can respond to various growth factors including Platelet-Derived Growth Factor (PDGF), Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF), and Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF). They are also highly motile. Chemoattractants, such as semaphorins and CXCL1, stimulate OPCs to migrate throughout the developing CNS. Once at their final end point, local environmental cues trigger OPCs to associate with axons and differentiate into myelinating oligodendrocytes.

The lineage progression of OPCs to fully differentiated, myelinating oligodendrocytes, is a multistep process. OPCs first differentiate in immature oligodendrocytes that extend short, multipolar processes. The cells then become post-mitotic and commit to the oligodendrocyte lineage but are unable to myelinate axons. In the final step, mature, non-myelinating oligodendrocytes become cells capable of forming myelin sheaths around axons. Each stage of oligodendrocyte differentiation and maturation can be identified by changes in morphology, migratory capacity, and expression pattern of specific markers, including the most common maturation stage markers CNPase, Olig2, and Oligodendrocyte Marker O4. R&D Systems offers a range of research tools needed for investigating oligodendrocyte development, maturation, and functioning.