Research moves closer to unravelling mystery cause of multiple sclerosis

April 24, 2017, University of Exeter
Demyelination by MS. The CD68 colored tissue shows several macrophages in the area of the lesion. Original scale 1:100. Credit: Marvin 101/Wikipedia

A new study has made a major new discovery towards finding the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS), potentially paving the way for research to investigate new treatments.

Ahead of MS Awareness Week, which starts today (Monday April 24), an international team involving the University of Exeter Medical School and the University of Alberta has discovered a new cellular mechanism— an underlying defect in —that may cause the disease, and a potential hallmark that may be a target for future of the autoimmune disorder.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation and part funded by the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor Paul Eggleton, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "Multiple sclerosis can have a devastating impact on people's lives, affecting mobility, speech, mental ability and more. So far, all medicine can offer is treatment and therapy for the symptoms - as we do not yet know the precise causes, research has been limited. Our exciting new findings have uncovered a new avenue for researchers to explore. It is a critical step, and in time, we hope it might lead to effective new treatments for MS."

Multiple sclerosis affects around 2.5 million people around the world. Typically, people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, and it is more common in women than men.

Although the cause has so far been a mystery, the disease causes the body's own immune system to attack myelin - the fatty "sheaths" that protect nerves in the and spinal cord. This leads to brain damage, a reduction in blood supply and oxygen and the formation of lesions in the body. Symptoms can be wide-ranging, and can include muscle spasms, mobility problems, pain, fatigue, and problems with speech.

Scientists have long suspected that mitochondria, the energy-creating "powerhouse" of the cell, play a link in causing .

The joint Exeter-Alberta research team was the first to combine clinical and laboratory experiments to explain how mitochondria become defective in people with MS. Using human brain tissue samples , they found that a protein called Rab32 is present in large quantities in the brains of people with MS, but is virtually absent in healthy brain cells.

Where Rab32 is present, the team discovered that a part of the cell that stores calcium (endoplasmic reticulum or ER) gets too close to the mitochondria. The resulting miscommunication with the calcium supply triggers the mitochondria to misbehave, ultimately causing toxicity for brain cells people with MS.

Researchers do not yet know what causes an unwelcome influx of Rab32 but they believe the defect could originate at the base of the ER organelle.

The finding will enable scientists to search for effective treatments that target Rab32 and embark on determining whether there are other proteins that may pay a role in triggering MS.

Dr David Schley, Research Communications Manager at the MS Society, said:

"No one knows for sure why people develop MS and we welcome any research that increases our understanding of how to stop it. There are currently no treatments available for many of the more than 100,000 people in the UK who live with this challenging and unpredictable condition. We want people with MS to have a range of treatments to choose from, and be able to get the right treatment at the right time."

Explore further: Possible new target for treatment of multiple sclerosis found

More information: Yohannes Haile et al, Rab32 connects ER stress to mitochondrial defects in multiple sclerosis, Journal of Neuroinflammation (2017). DOI: 10.1186/s12974-016-0788-z

Related Stories

Possible new target for treatment of multiple sclerosis found

March 23, 2017
In the relentless battle against multiple sclerosis (MS), U of A researchers recently discovered an entirely new cellular mechanism—an underlying defect in brain cells—that may to be blame for the disease, and a potential ...

Researchers make major brain repair discovery in fight against multiple sclerosis

March 15, 2017
Queen's University Belfast scientists have discovered that specific cells from the immune system are key players in brain repair – a fundamental breakthrough that could revolutionise the treatment of debilitating neurological ...

Medical history reveals multiple sclerosis begins to impact patients sooner

April 20, 2017
People with multiple sclerosis can show signs of something wrong five years before the onset of disease, much earlier than previously thought, according to a new analysis of health records from people with the condition.

Getting closer to treatment for Parkinson's

January 23, 2017
More than 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson's disease. The cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown and thus no effective treatments exist. A study from the University of Bergen (UiB) suggests that the secret of the ...

Researchers identify potential treatment for type of muscle and brain degenerative disease

March 21, 2017
UCLA researchers have discovered the molecular basis of, and identified potential treatment for, an incurable disease known as inclusion body myopathy, Paget disease with frontotemporal dementia, or IBMPFD. Using both genetically ...

Brain shrinkage in multiple sclerosis associated with leaked protein in blood

December 13, 2016
A leak of a protein called haemoglobin from damaged red blood cells may be associated with brain shrinkage in multiple sclerosis.

Recommended for you

Scientists chase mystery of how dogs process words

October 15, 2018
When some dogs hear their owners say "squirrel," they perk up, become agitated. They may even run to a window and look out of it. But what does the word mean to the dog? Does it mean, "Pay attention, something is happening?" ...

Sugar, a 'sweet' tool to understand brain injuries

October 15, 2018
Australian researchers have developed ground-breaking new technology which could prove crucial in treating brain injuries and have multiple other applications, including testing the success of cancer therapies.

Scientists examine how neuropathic pain responds to Metformin

October 15, 2018
Scientists seeking an effective treatment for one type of chronic pain believe a ubiquitous, generic diabetes medication might solve both the discomfort and the mental deficits that go with the pain.

Abnormal vision in childhood can affect brain functions

October 13, 2018
A research team has discovered that abnormal vision in childhood can affect the development of higher-level brain areas responsible for things such as attention.

Two seemingly opposing forces in the brain actually cooperate to enhance memory formation

October 12, 2018
The brain allows organisms to learn and adapt to their surroundings. It does this by literally changing the connections, or synapses, between neurons, strengthening meaningful patterns of neural activity in order to store ...

How the grid cell system of the brain maps mental spaces

October 12, 2018
It has long been known that so-called place cells in the human hippocampus are responsible for coding one's position in space. A related type of brain cell, called grid cells, encodes a variety of positions that are evenly ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Porgie
1 / 5 (2) Apr 24, 2017
Its the same one that causes liberals. Ahhhhhhhhhh But seriously folks we need progress on this. Thanks for your hard work.

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.