It is widely thought that brain repair does not occur, but myelin regeneration provides clear evidence to the contrary. Spontaneous remyelination may occur after injury or in multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the efficiency of remyelination varies considerably between MS patients and between the lesions of each patient. Myelin repair is essential for optimal functional recovery, so a profound understanding of the cells and mechanisms involved in this process is required for the development of new therapeutic strategies. In this review, we describe how animal models and modern cell tracing and imaging methods have helped to identify the cell types involved in myelin regeneration. In addition to the oligodendrocyte progenitor cells identified in the 1990s as the principal source of remyelinating cells in the central nervous system (CNS), other cell populations, including subventricular zone-derived neural progenitors, Schwann cells, and even spared mature oligodendrocytes, have more recently emerged as potential contributors to CNS remyelination. We will also highlight the conditions known to limit endogenous repair, such as aging, chronic inflammation, and the production of extracellular matrix proteins, and the role of astrocytes and microglia in these processes. Finally, we will present the discrepancies between observations in humans and in rodents, discussing the relationship of findings in experimental models to myelin repair in humans. These considerations are particularly important from a therapeutic standpoint.
Keywords: multiple sclerosis; myelin repair; neural stem cells; oligodendrocyte; subventricular zone; therapeutic strategies.