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Is activity regulation of late myelination a plastic mechanism in the human nervous system?

  • Fredrik Ullén (a1)


Studies on various animal models have established that neuronal activity can influence the myelination process. Are such mechanisms present in humans, and do they mediate experience-driven white matter plasticity not only during early development but also in adolescents and adults? While there is as yet no direct evidence for this, a number of findings – reviewed here – are consistent with this idea. First, postmortem and neuroimaging studies show that the human white matter development is a protracted process that continues well into adulthood. Second, developmental changes and individual differences in white matter structure are related to differences in neural activity and behavior. Finally, studies on effects of long-term training, in particular in musicians, show strong relations between training and white matter structure. I conclude by briefly discussing possible types of white matter plasticity that could underlie these findings, emphasizing a distinction between indirect myelination plasticity, where the myelin sheath grows in parallel with the axon itself, and direct myelination plasticity, where the myelin sheath thickness is modulated independently of axonal diameter.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Fredrik Ullén, Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden email:


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Is activity regulation of late myelination a plastic mechanism in the human nervous system?

  • Fredrik Ullén (a1)


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