Myelin-forming oligodendrocytes (OLs) are formed continuously in the healthy adult brain. In this work, we study the function of these late-forming cells and the myelin they produce. Learning a new motor skill (such as juggling) alters the structure of the brain's white matter, which contains many OLs, suggesting that late-born OLs might contribute to motor learning. Consistent with this idea, we show that production of newly formed OLs is briefly accelerated in mice that learn a new skill (running on a "complex wheel" with irregularly spaced rungs). By genetically manipulating the transcription factor myelin regulatory factor in OL precursors, we blocked production of new OLs during adulthood without affecting preexisting OLs or myelin. This prevented the mice from mastering the complex wheel. Thus, generation of new OLs and myelin is important for learning motor skills.
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