Fingolimod (FTY720), a first-in-class sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) receptor agonist, is a recently approved drug for treating relapsing multiple sclerosis. Experimental evidence suggests that FTY720 not only exhibits anti-inflammatory properties but also promotes myelination in the central nervous system by direct interaction with oligodendrocytes.
To assess the effects of FTY720 on Schwann cells (SCs) and peripheral nerve myelination.
Receptor expression studies and myelination were investigated in primary rat SCs and rat neuronal/SC cocultures. Cells were treated with physiologically relevant concentrations of the active phosphorylated form of FTY720 (FTY720P). In addition, S1P receptor expression was corroborated in human and rat peripheral nerve tissue sections.
Schwann cells express all known S1P receptors on the RNA level, not altered by FTY720P. In the myelination model, treatment with FTY720P resulted in a significant reduction of quantitative myelin formation. FTY720P induced reactive oxygen species in SCs associated with apoptosis of these cells, as demonstrated by the detection of cysteine aspartic acid–specific protease 3 and 7, as well as terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labeling. This effect was dependent of S1P signaling because the blocking of S1P receptors ameliorated reactive oxygen species production, SC apoptosis, and myelin loss.
FTY720P at greater concentrations induces apoptosis in SCs and may interfere with peripheral nerve myelination.