Researchers report novel complementary effects of estrogen treatment in multiple sclerosis

December 28, 2017, University of California, Los Angeles
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 study by UCLA researchers reveals the cellular basis for how the hormone estrogen protects against damage to the central nervous system in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The researchers found that estrogen treatment exerts positive effects on two types of cells during disease —immune cells in the brain and also cells called oligodendrocytes. Complementary actions on these two types provide protection from disease.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune, neurodegenerative disease marked by visual impairment, weakness and sensory loss, as well as cognitive decline. These symptoms emerge when inflammatory destroy the that surrounds nerve processes called axons. Loss of that protective insulation disrupts electrical communication between .

The third trimester of pregnancy has been previously shown to reduce relapse rates by approximately 70 percent as compared to before pregnancy, and other studies have shown benefit over the long term due to multiple pregnancies. An estrogen unique to pregnancy that is made by the fetus and placenta has been proposed by Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl and colleagues to mediate this pregnancy protection in both the MS mouse model as well as in two successfully completed clinical trials of estriol treatment in MS patients.

How that happens has remained a critical question. Voskuhl, who led the latest study, reported mouse studies showing that estrogen protected the from damage by activating a protein called estrogen receptor beta (ERb). Her new research identifies which cells within the brain are mediating this protective effect.

The researchers first genetically eliminated ERb in either immune cells of the brain or in oligodendrocytes, the cells that make the myelin sheath, as a way of making cells unresponsive to estrogen during the MS like disease in mice. They then treated mice without or with ERb in these cells to ask if disease protection was lost or not. Loss of protection during treatment meant that the treatment was acting on the cell that had the receptor removed. Results showed that the estrogen-like treatment was acting on both immune cells of the brain as well as on oligodendrocytes, together resulting in repair of myelin and less disability.

Drug developers often optimize therapies by targeting only one single cell type. By contrast, this study confirms that this estrogen-like compound can combat MS via complementary effects on two distinct cell types. Voskuhl and other UCLA researchers are in fact now developing a next-generation estrogen-like compound with robust biochemical effects on oligodendrocytes and immune in the brain.

The study was published online in Brain on Dec. 8. It will appear in the January print issue.

Explore further: Cellular self-digestion process triggers autoimmune disease

More information: Brain (2017). DOI: 10.1093/brain/awx315/4710057

Related Stories

Cellular self-digestion process triggers autoimmune disease

December 13, 2017
Autophagy refers to a fundamental recycling process of cells that occurs in yeast, fungi, plants, as well as animals and humans. This process allows cells to degrade their own components and thus activate energy resources ...

How rogue immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier to cause multiple sclerosis

November 21, 2017
Drug designers working on therapeutics against multiple sclerosis should focus on blocking two distinct ways rogue immune cells attack healthy neurons, according to a new study in the journal Cell Reports.

Researchers identify potential therapeutic target in aggressive breast cancer cells

November 15, 2017
An especially aggressive breast cancer cell can respond to hormone therapy if they express a specific protein known as estrogen receptor beta (ERβ), according to new research published on the cover of Oncotarget. The findings ...

Preliminary results for combined therapy show improvement in MS symptoms

April 29, 2014
Combining the estrogen hormone estriol with Copaxone, a drug indicated for the treatment of patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), may improve symptoms in patients with the disorder, according to preliminary ...

Safe form of estrogen helped multiple sclerosis patients avoid relapses in clinical trial

November 30, 2015
Taking the pregnancy hormone estriol along with their conventional medications helped patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) avoid relapses, according to results of a Phase II randomized, placebo-controlled ...

Recommended for you

Neural inflammation plays critical role in stress-induced depression

July 19, 2018
A group of Japanese researchers has discovered that neural inflammation caused by the innate immune system plays an unexpectedly important role in stress-induced depression. This insight could potentially lead to the development ...

Paralyzed mice with spinal cord injury made to walk again

July 19, 2018
Most people with spinal cord injury are paralyzed from the injury site down, even when the cord isn't completely severed. Why don't the spared portions of the spinal cord keep working? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Understanding the neuroscience of binge drinking

July 19, 2018
A new study from researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center found that binge drinking impairs working memory in the adolescent brain. The study, in mice, explains why teenagers who binge drink are 15 times more ...

Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production and survival of myelin-forming cells

July 19, 2018
The nervous system is a complex organ that relies on a variety of biological players to ensure daily function of the human body. Myelin—a membrane produced by specialized glial cells—plays a critical role in protecting ...

Neurons can carry more than one signal at a time

July 18, 2018
Back in the early days of telecommunications, engineers devised a clever way to send multiple telephone calls through a single wire at the same time. Called time-division multiplexing, this technique rapidly switches between ...

Researchers solve mystery of how ALL enters the central nervous system

July 18, 2018
A deadly feature of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is its invasion of the central nervous system.

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.