Multiple sclerosis blocked in mouse model

March 7, 2011, Washington University School of Medicine

Scientists have blocked harmful immune cells from entering the brain in mice with a condition similar to multiple sclerosis (MS).

According to researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, this is important because MS is believed to be caused by misdirected that enter the brain and damage myelin, an insulating material on the branches of neurons that conduct nerve impulses.

New insights into how the brain regulates immune cell entry made the accomplishment possible. Washington University scientists had borrowed an anti-cancer drug in development by the company ChemoCentryx simply to test their theories.

"The results were so dramatic that we ended up producing early evidence that this compound might be helpful as a drug for MS," says Robyn Klein, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology and immunology, of medicine and of neurobiology. "The harmful immune cells were unable to gain access to the , and the mice that received the highest dosage were protected from disease."

ChemoCentryx is now testing the drug in Phase I safety trials. The study is published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Klein and her colleagues discovered a chemical stairway that immune cells have to climb down to enter the brain. Immune cells that exit the blood remain along the vessels on the tissue side, climbing down from the meninges into the brain where they can then cross additional barriers and attack myelin on the branches of neurons.

"The effect of immune cell entry into the brain depends on context," Klein says. "In the case of viral infection, immune cell entry is required to clear the virus. But in like , their entry is associated with damage so we need to find ways to keep them out."

The stairway is located on the tissue side of the microvasculature, tiny vessels that carry blood into the . The steps are made of a molecule called CXCL12 that localizes immune cells, acting like stairs that slow them down so that they can be evaluated to determine if they are allowed to enter the brain. Klein's lab previously discovered that the blood vessel cells of the microvasculature display copies of this molecule on their surfaces.

Klein also found that MS causes CXCL12 to be pulled inside blood vessel cells in humans and mice, removing the stairway's steps and the checkpoints they provide. In the new paper, she showed that blocking the internalization of the molecule prevented immune cells from getting into the brain and doing harm.

Work by another lab called Klein's attention to CXCR7, a receptor that binds to CXCL12. She showed that the receptor is made by the same cells in the microvasculature that display CXCL12. They watched the receptor take copies of CXCL12 and dump them in the cells' lysosomes, pockets for breakdown and recycling of molecules the cell no longer needs.

"After it dumps its cargo in the lysosome, the receptor can go right back to the cell surface to pull in another copy of CXCL12," Klein says. "There likely exists an equilibrium between expression and disposal of CXCL12. Some of the proteins expressed by the immune cells in MS patients affect CXCR7 expression and activity, disrupting the equilibrium and stripping the steps from this immune cell stairway we're studying."

Klein contacted researchers at ChemoCentryx, who were developing a blocker of the CXCR7 receptor as a cancer treatment. When they gave it to the mouse model of MS, immune cells stopped at the meninges.

Klein also found that immune factors could cause microvasculature cells to make more or less of CXCR7, ramping up or down the number of steps on the chemical stairway. She is currently investigating additional immune factors that impact on CXCR7 activity within the blood vessel cell. Whether a given factor promotes or suppresses the receptor may also differ depending upon what part of the brain is being considered.

"One of the biggest questions in MS has been why the location, severity and progression of disease varies so much from patient to patient," Klein says. "Getting a better understanding of how these factors regulate immune cell entry will be an important part of answering that question."

More information: Cruz-Orengo L, Holman DW, Dorsey D, Zhou L, Zhang P, Wright M, McCandless EE, Patel JR, Luker GD, Littman DR, Russell JH, Klein RS. CXCR7 influences leukocyte entry into the CNS parenchyma by controlling abluminal CXCL12 abundance during autoimmunity. The Journal of Experimental Medicine, Feb. 7, 2011.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Forces from fluid in the developing lung play an essential role in organ development

January 23, 2018
It is a marvel of nature: during gestation, multiple tissue types cooperate in building the elegantly functional structures of organs, from the brain's folds to the heart's multiple chambers. A recent study by Princeton researchers ...

Anemia discovery offers new targets to treat fatigue in millions

January 22, 2018
A new discovery from the University of Virginia School of Medicine has revealed an unknown clockwork mechanism within the body that controls the creation of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The finding sheds light on iron-restricted ...

More surprises about blood development—and a possible lead for making lymphocytes

January 22, 2018
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) have long been regarded as the granddaddy of all blood cells. After we are born, these multipotent cells give rise to all our cell lineages: lymphoid, myeloid and erythroid cells. Hematologists ...

How metal scaffolds enhance the bone healing process

January 22, 2018
A new study shows how mechanically optimized constructs known as titanium-mesh scaffolds can optimize bone regeneration. The induction of bone regeneration is of importance when treating large bone defects. As demonstrated ...

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.