September 29, 2022
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Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune and neurodegenerative disease that attacks the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerves in the brain and spinal cord. There are many types, but the main two are progressive and relapsing-remitting.
New research about MS is constantly emerging — so what are some recent ground-breaking research developments in this area?
Recently, significant research has emerged on the role of the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) in the development of MS.
A study by Harvard’s School of Public Health found that 97% of people who developed MS in their cohort had tested positive for recent infection with EBV and concluded that the risk of developing MS after contracting EBV is 32 times higher than the average risk.
This finding suggests that EBV may be a large contributor to the immune system dysregulation behind MS. It’s not known why some people have this reaction to EBV infection, since the researchers stated that over 90% of adults have had EBV at some point, but most do not develop MS.
As a result, medical researchers have begun to explore the use of treatments that target EBV immune cells in people with MS. One clinical trial has initiated the testing of a treatment called ATA188, which involves transplanting immune cells from those with EBV without MS to those who have MS.
The hypothesis is that certain immune cells may be able to target EBV immune cells to prevent the immune reaction that contributes to the development of MS. The trial is in its early stages so we’ll have to wait and see what other developments emerge in the coming months.
New research is trialing the use of a therapy called BTK inhibitors to prevent immune cells from attacking the myelin sheath and nerves in MS. Unlike other existing therapies, BTK inhibitors are more specific to the kinds of immune cells that they target which could result in a lower risk of side effects than other immunomodulating and immunosuppressive drugs.
The study also found that BTK inhibitors can cross the blood-brain barrier in mice, which suggests they may be able to do the same in humans. If so, they could act directly on the myelin in the brain, which is frequently damaged in MS.
Microglia immune cells are found in human brain tissue. While their role in MS symptoms is not defined, microglia contain BTK molecules, which could make them susceptible to BTK inhibitors.
Genetics has long been known to play a part in multiple sclerosis development. However, exactly which genes these are and where they are located in still being understood.
A recent study discovered that changes to single nucleotide polymorphisms of genes, which are connected to oxidative stress and nitrosative stress, may contribute to one’s likelihood of getting MS. These include the genetic variants of SOD2, CAT, GPX4, and NOS2.
Another study focused on identifying genes that contribute to inflammatory pathways associated with MS. The researchers discovered genetic variations on chromosome 4 that affected DNA methylation of the PRDM8 gene on chromosome 16 and the PRKCA gene on chromosome 17. These genetic variations could have effects on MS susceptibility.
There are two main types of MS — progressive and relapse-remitting. Many researchers have focused their attention on progressive MS because it progressively causes more severe disability over time.
A 2022 study involved examining the brain tissue of patients with progressive multiple sclerosis. The study found proteins associated with neurological damage and defective anti-inflammatory communications in areas where the brain was damaged in MS.
These findings are relevant to our understanding of the pathogenesis of progressive MS, how it emerges and how it may differ from other types of MS.
The myelin sheath, which is attacked and damaged in MS is created by cells in the human body called oligodendrocytes. New research by the MS Society’s Edinburgh Centre for MS research has highlighted that newer oligodendrocytes are far more effective at producing myelin than older cells, which may withstand the immune attacks of MS.
This fascinating discovery could potentially provide new ways to explore treatment surrounding the repair of myelin, by destroying older, less effective, oligodendrocytes and replacing them with newer more efficient cells.
Scientists are working to understand more about MS each year. Their work is helping us understand why and how MS occurs, and the specific neurodegenerative and inflammatory changes that are contributing to its symptoms and progression.
With a better understanding of the pathogenesis of MS comes the potential to develop treatments that work to modify its causative mechanisms.
That’s why new treatments, medications and trials are being initiated which may lead to the development of completely different management plans and quality of life for MS patients.
To stay tuned to MS research, check out the Multiple Sclerosis Trust and the MS Society.
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