Mechanistic studies of CNS myelination have been hindered by the lack of a rapidly myelinating culture system. Here, we describe a versatile CNS coculture method that allows time-lapse microscopy and molecular analysis of distinct stages of myelination. Employing a culture architecture of reaggregated neurons fosters extension of dense beds of axons from purified retinal ganglion cells. Seeding of oligodendrocyte precursor cells on these axons results in differentiation and ensheathment in as few as 3 days, with generation of compact myelin within 6 days. This technique enabled (1) the demonstration that oligodendrocytes initiate new myelin segments only during a brief window early in their differentiation, (2) identification of a contribution of astrocytes to the rate of myelin wrapping, and (3) molecular dissection of the role of oligodendrocyte γ-secretase activity in controlling the ensheathment of axons. These insights illustrate the value of this defined system for investigating multiple aspects of CNS myelination.
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