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What is Myelin?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 17, 2024
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As part of the nervous system, myelin lines nerve fibers to protect and insulate neurons. Myelin aids in the quick and accurate transmission of electrical current carrying data from one nerve cell to the next. When myelin becomes damaged, the process involves numerous health conditions, including multiple sclerosis.

Nerves are like an electrical wire. Current (the message) must be conducted along a path (the nerve) to successfully get from point A to point B (the brain to a fingertip). The electrical current must travel without being corrupted, scrambled, diverted from the proper path, or leaking energy. Therefore, myelin is like the layer of plastic insulation surrounding an interior wire, which is the nerve. Additionally, myelin speeds the conduction, so it's also analogous to a secondary coating on the wire that reduces the resistance facing an electrical current. The interior wire represents the series of axons and nerve cells that relay the electrical impulse.

Myelin is always made of lipids of proteins, but it functions slightly differently depending on where in our nervous system it's employed. Our body has a Peripheral Nervous System, PNS, that branches from the spinal cord to carry information related to sensory input, while our brain's Central Nervous System, CNS, determines how to act on that input. Each of these systems synthesizes myelin in a different way, so different complications can result.

Dysfunction in the myelin of nerve fibers causes the interruption of smooth delivery of information. Either nerve impulses can be slowed, such that we can't pull our hand away in time to avoid being burned, or mixed up, so we aren't able to determine if a pan is hot in the first place. This is akin to a pet chewing on a wire, causing the device to dysfunction. When problems arise in nerves of the PNS, neuropathy might result, and when injury affects the nerves of the CNS, multiple sclerosis is often diagnosed.

This serious disease, multiple sclerosis, causes demyelination. In demyelination, an auto-immune reaction, our body attacks our own healthy myelin, deteriorating and scarring the important lining. In later stages, the cells that produce myelin in the CNS, oligodendrocytes, are destroyed so that no further replacement is possible. This permanently weakens and damages the entire nerve, resulting in compromised axons in extreme cases. Researchers are looking into preventing this auto-immune response, as well as stimulating oligodendrocytes to replace the damaged myelin before they are themselves attacked.

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Discussion Comments

By anon107102 — On Aug 28, 2010

I just read Daniel Coyle's book "The Talent Code" which discusses the issue of myelin extensively. I am a violinist and music teacher and the concept of myelin has radically altered the way I look at skill versus "talent" in development.

By anon77374 — On Apr 14, 2010

Myelin is what deteriorates in the brain during old age, right?

By anon66449 — On Feb 19, 2010

lower intake of oleic acid results in lowered oleic acid levels in what?

By anon51326 — On Nov 04, 2009

The best way to increase Myelin is through intensive learning of any activity where you want to improve speed, accuracy or efficiency of an action. Intensive learning will need to be slow and focused exercise.

By anon35754 — On Jul 07, 2009

How can loss of myelin affect motor control, and single muscle movement?

By anon35641 — On Jul 06, 2009

Can the myelin increase more rapidly with vitamins/therapy? -POG

By laluna — On Jan 04, 2009

Since we are not born with fully developed myelin lining, it is important to protect young brains, for that matter any brain, from activities that might inhibit healthy growth. That would include eating healthy diet, avoiding stress, sufficient sleep, and avoiding smoking and drugs.

Myelin lining continues to grow into adulthood, and it seems to reach the peak around the age of 40, when it starts slowly to break down.

By anon20459 — On Oct 31, 2008

response to adarst: Myelin is part of both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Vitamin B- complex acts to strengthen the CNS and PNS. Specifically B-12, however increased vitamin b-12 intake should be monitored by a health care practitioner, in order to prevent overdose. a healthy adult needs not exceed 2.4mg/day. however it is important to address the 2 types of B-12. the first B-12 is cynocobalamin. This is also the least expensive and is found in most drug stores, however the most effective form is methylcobalamin.

By adarst — On Sep 04, 2008

What vitamin is linked with mylein?

By mnscout — On Feb 14, 2008

Is Myelin good for CMT?


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