A guest post by Briana Landis, our summer intern:
Zebrafish are our new favorite fish. These tiny fish, about the size of a triple-A battery, are a popular model organism for scientific research. Not only do zebrafish reproduce quickly, they are a less-expensive vertebrate model than mice. When they are in the embryo stage they are transparent, making them great candidates for research as scientists can see through them and examine their internal anatomy. Furthermore, their central nervous system (CNS) is similar to that of humans in organization and neurotransmission. This CNS similarity is helping make some interesting discoveries in the world of multiple sclerosis (MS) research.
MS is a disease of the CNS where the body attacks the covering on nerves (myelin) and causes the nerves to not be able to transmit the correct signals. In most studies, when damaged myelin of a human or animal grows back (remyelination) the myelin is not is strong or thick as the original myelin. It is like replacing a flat tire with one without tread. Yes, you can drive places, but one patch of ice and your car is spinning out of control because it does not have the same traction as that of a new tire; it’s a temporary fix. However, with zebrafish, this is not the case. This study gave zebrafish a demyelination “concoction” that paralleled the effects of what MS does to the nerves in humans. The results were quite remarkable- most zebrafish made a full recovery from their central nervous system being demyelinated- the myelin being just as strong as before. When the fish were given the concoction to demyelinate, an immune response was triggered that produced remyelination in a matter of days. While their nervous system is similar to that of humans, scientists are still trying to target what makes it different- that is, how it is able to remyelinate perfectly. While there is still more research to done, it is nice to know that we have a great ally in the fight against MS in the water.
Cover image credit: By Photnart – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0