During the active phase of myelination in myelin-deficient mutant mice (mld), myelin basic protein (MBP) synthesis is defective and the myelin lamellae are uncompacted. In these mutants, we found a fast metabolism of the myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG) and of sulfatides, and the presence of cholesterol esters and a degradation product of MAG, dMAG, indicating that mld myelin was unstable. The increased synthesis of MAG and Wolfgram protein, two proteins present in uncompacted myelin sheath and paranodal loops, was demonstrated by high levels of messengers. Simultaneously, we found an accumulation of inclusion bodies, vacuoles, and rough endoplasmic reticulum in mld oligodendrocytes. This material was heavily immunostained for MAG. Furthermore, the developmental change between the two molecular forms of MAG (p72MAG/p67MAG) was delayed in mld mice. In 85-d-old mld mice, the MBP content increased and myelin lamellae became better compacted. In these mutants, dMAG was absent and MAG mRNAs were found in normal amounts. Furthermore, the fine structure of mld oligodendrocytes was normal and the MAG immunostaining was similar to age-matched controls. These results support a functional role for MBP in maintaining the metabolic stability and the compact structure of myelin. Furthermore, in the absence of MBP and myelin compaction, the regulation of the synthesis of at least two membrane proteins related to myelin cannot proceed.

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