Study offers new clues to the origin and progression of MS

November 15, 2018
According to a new study, mapping of oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system of a mouse model of multiple sclerosis shows they might play a significant role in the development of the disease. The discovery may lead to new therapies targeted at other areas than just the immune system.

While it is unknown why the immune system attacks the myelin, a study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet, in Solna, Sweden, shows the cells that produce myelin, oligodendrocytes, might play an unexpected role. Oligodendrocytes are one of the most common types of cell in the brain and spinal cord. In a mouse model of MS, the researchers showed that a subset of oligodendrocytes and their progenitor cells have much in common with the immune cells. Among other properties, they can take part in the clearing away of the myelin that is damaged by the disease, in a way that resembles how immune cells operate. Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells also communicate with the immune cells and make them change their behavior.

The study authors said they also see that some genes that have been identified as those that cause a susceptibility to MS are active in oligodendrocytes and their progenitors. This suggests that these cells have a significant role to play either in the onset of the disease or in the disease process.

Results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans. Although the study was largely conducted on mice, some of the results have also been observed in human samples. The researchers said they will now continue with further studies to ascertain the part played by the oligodendrocytes and their progenitor cells in MS. Further knowledge can eventually lead the way to the development of new treatments for the disease.

The results are published in Nature Medicine.

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