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

Brain response study upends thinking about why practice speeds up motor reaction times

August 16, 2018
Researchers in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that a computerized study of 36 healthy adult volunteers asked to repeat the same movement over and over became significantly ...

Newly identified role for inhibition in cerebellar plasticity and behavior

August 16, 2018
Almost everyone is familiar with the unique mixture of surprise and confusion that occurs after making a mistake during an everyday movement. It's a fairly startling experience—stumbling on a step or accidentally missing ...

Men and women show surprising differences in seeing motion

August 16, 2018
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have found an unexpected difference between men and women. On average, their studies show, men pick up on visual motion significantly faster than women do.

How people use, and lose, preexisting biases to make decisions

August 16, 2018
From love and politics to health and finances, humans can sometimes make decisions that appear irrational, or dictated by an existing bias or belief. But a new study from Columbia University neuroscientists uncovers a surprisingly ...

Working memory might be more flexible than previously thought

August 16, 2018
Breaking with the long-held idea that working memory has fixed limits, a new study by researchers at Uppsala University and New York University suggests that these limits adapt themselves to the task that one is performing. ...

Self-control develops gradually in adolescent brain

August 15, 2018
Different parts of the brain mature at different times, which may help to explain impulsive behaviors in adolescence, suggest researchers from Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh.

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.