New Study In Multiple Sclerosis Finds New Genetic Clues To What Triggers The Disease

E-medicine Health

Multiple sclerosis, also known as MS, is a debilitating and lifelong disease that affects the brain and spinal cord affecting one million Americans yearly.

Recently, an international team of researchers found that a cell type known as oligodendrocytes, which is found in the central nervous system, could have a different role when it comes to the development of multiple sclerosis than what was previously thought or known. With this, the findings could possibly open the pathways for new therapeutical approaches to the disease.

MS is diagnosed when the immune cells attack the oligodendrocytes and the myelin, which it produces. The myelin is the layer that sheaths and protects the nerve cells. When this occurs, these so-called attacks disturb the flow of information in the brain and spinal cord, causing nerve damage that triggers the symptoms that are associate with multiple sclerosis, such as tremors, tingling, and a loss of gait, to name a few.

By understanding the mechanisms that influence the risk of MS, it is key to finding effective therapy. Former genetic studies showed that there are regions in the human genome that have mutations (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that are linked to an increased risk of MS. They saw that many of these regions have been confined to the genes that are most active in immune cells.


A Study in Open Configuration of the Genome

During the study, the researchers show in human brain and mice samples ‘that oligodendrocytes and their progenitors have an open configuration of the genome near immune genes and at MS-risk associated regions.’

What this suggests is that the MS risk mutations could possibly have a role in the activation of nearby genes in oligodendrocytes and their progenitors, which could also meant that they could have a more important role in the development of MS than previously thought.

According to professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet, Gonçalo Castelo-Branco, said, “Our findings suggest that the risk for multiple sclerosis might manifest by misfunction not only of immune cells, but also of oligodendrocytes and their precursor cells.” He conducted the study with co-first authors Mandy Meijer, a PhD student, and Enertiz Agirre, a researcher, which was published in the medical journal Neuron.

He added, “These findings indicate that these cells can also be targeted for therapeutical approaches for MS, to prevent misfunction that might be caused by these mutations.”