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Retinoid X receptor activation reverses age-related deficiencies in myelin debris phagocytosis and remyelination

Natrajan, M S; De La Fuente, A G; Crawford, A H; Lineham, E; Nuñez, V; Johnson, K R; Wu, T; Fitzgerald, D C; Ricote, M; Bielekova, B; Franklin, R J


M S Natrajan

A G De La Fuente

A H Crawford

E Lineham

V Nuñez

K R Johnson

T Wu

D C Fitzgerald

M Ricote

B Bielekova

R J Franklin


The efficiency of central nervous system remyelination declines with age. This is in part due to an age-associated decline in the phagocytic removal of myelin debris, which contains inhibitors of oligodendrocyte progenitor cell differentiation. In this study, we show that expression of genes involved in the retinoid X receptor pathway are decreased with ageing in both myelin-phagocytosing human monocytes and mouse macrophages using a combination of in vivo and in vitro approaches. Disruption of retinoid X receptor function in young macrophages, using the antagonist HX531, mimics ageing by reducing myelin debris uptake. Macrophage-specific RXRα (Rxra) knockout mice revealed that loss of function in young mice caused delayed myelin debris uptake and slowed remyelination after experimentally-induced demyelination. Alternatively, retinoid X receptor agonists partially restored myelin debris phagocytosis in aged macrophages. The agonist bexarotene, when used in concentrations achievable in human subjects, caused a reversion of the gene expression profile in multiple sclerosis patient monocytes to a more youthful profile and enhanced myelin debris phagocytosis by patient cells. These results reveal the retinoid X receptor pathway as a positive regulator of myelin debris clearance and a key player in the age-related decline in remyelination that may be targeted by available or newly-developed therapeutics.


Natrajan, M. S., De La Fuente, A. G., Crawford, A. H., Lineham, E., Nuñez, V., Johnson, K. R., …Franklin, R. J. (2015). Retinoid X receptor activation reverses age-related deficiencies in myelin debris phagocytosis and remyelination. Brain, 138(Pt12), 3581-97.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 14, 2015
Publication Date Oct 13, 2015
Deposit Date Aug 23, 2018
Journal BRAIN
Print ISSN 0006-8950
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 138
Issue Pt12
Pages 3581-97
Public URL