Multiple sclerosis (MS) may be triggered by the death of brain cells that make myelin, the insulation around nerve fibers, according to research on a novel mouse model developed by scientists. The death of these cells initiates an autoimmune response against myelin, the main characteristic of the disease, which leads to MS-like symptoms in mice.
This reaction can be prevented, however, through the application of specially developed nanoparticles, even after the loss of those brain cells. The nanoparticles are being developed for clinical trials that could lead to new treatments in humans. The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease involving an abnormal immune response against myelin, which leads to the progressive deterioration of a wide range of body functions. MS is thought to affect 2.5 million people worldwide, and has unclear causes and no known cure.
By specifically killing oligodendrocytes, the team observed MS-like symptoms that affected the ability of the mice to walk. After this initial event, the central nervous systems of the mice regenerated their myelin-producing cells, enabling them to walk again. But about six months later, the MS-like symptoms came barreling back.
Possible causes of oligodendrocyte death are developmental abnormalities, viruses, bacterial toxins or environmental pollutants. In humans, the researchers hypothesize MS could develop years after an initial injury to the brain triggers oligodendrocyte death.
The mouse model also enabled the testing of new drugs against progressive MS. In the study, nanoparticles creating tolerance to the myelin antigen were administered and prevented progressive MS from developing.