The cerebral white matter of rats subjected to a variety of noxious experimental conditions was examined in the electron microscope. Several unusual configurations of the myelin sheath are identified in addition to the usual configuration. These variations include the presence of (a) formed organelles within the inner and outer loops, (b) isolated islands of cytoplasm in unfused portions of the major dense lines, (c) apparently unconnected cell processes between the sheath and the axon, and (d) concentric, double myelin sheaths. A generalized model of the myelin sheath based on a hypothetical unrolling of the sheath is described. It consists of a shovel-shaped myelin sheet surrounded by a continuous thickened rim of cytoplasm. Most of the unusual myelin configurations are explained as simple variations on this basic theme. With the help of this model, an explanation of the formation of the myelin sheath is offered. This explanation involves the concept that myelin formation can occur at all cytoplasmic areas adjacent to the myelin proper and that adjacent myelin lamellae can move in relation to each other.

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