While more work needs to be done to fully understand the role of nonsynaptic cholinergic effects on brain development, said Bartzokis, his hypotheses can easily be tested through in vivo imaging of the brain to study the breakdown and growth of myelin. That will make it possible to directly test in humans the practical utility of the myelin-centered model of the human brain.
Ultimately, it could foster the development of novel treatments, as well as aid in assessing the efficacy of currently available treatments. These include the use of cholinergic treatments that include acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (used to treat Alzheimer's) and nicotine patches.
"Through these rather benign interventions," Bartzokis said, "such effects on the brain's vulnerable oligodendrocyte populations may offer exciting opportunities for the prevention of both developmental and degenerative brain disorders. They deserve much closer scrutiny."