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Researchers Find That Immune B Cells from People with MS May Harm Nerve Cells

July 5, 2017

SUMMARY:
  • Researchers co-funded by the National MS Society have found that immune B cells obtained from the blood of people with relapsing-remitting MS secrete products that can be toxic to nerve cells grown in lab dishes.
  • This study offers new insight into how B cells may contribute to nervous system damage in MS.
  • The team is now conducting further studies to identify the toxic factor or factors secreted by the B cells, and when and how they may act in people with MS, and to answer questions such as whether they are unique to MS, whether they are also evident in people with progressive MS.
  • Drs Robert P Lisak, Joyce Benjamins (Wayne State University), Amit Bar-Or (McGill University and currently at University of Pennsylvania) and colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Neuroimmunology (2017 Aug 15;309:88-99, published online May 17) 
DETAILS
Background: While scientists still don’t know what causes multiple sclerosis, they do know that immune-system attacks are involved, resulting in damage to the myelin that insulates nerve fibers and to nerve cells and fibers themselves. Immune T cells have typically been named as culprits, but it has become clear that immune B cells, another type of white blood cell, are also involved in MS. Research and studies on B cells, including early studies supported by the National MS Society, eventually led to successful clinical trials and approval of Ocrevus™ (ocrelizumab - Genentech, a member of the Roche Group) to treat people with primary progressive and relapsing-remitting MS. Ocrevus depletes certain B cells.
 
The Study: The current study builds on the researchers’ earlier findings that B cells from the blood of people with relapsing-remitting MS – but not blood from healthy individuals – are toxic to certain cells that build myelin. In this study, the team isolated B cells in the laboratory from the blood of 13 women and men with relapsing-remitting MS who were not receiving disease-modifying treatment or recent steroids, and 13 controls without MS.
 
The researchers found that products released by B cells from the people with MS were toxic to both rat and human nerve cells grown in lab dishes, while cells from the controls did not incur the same damage. The nerve cells died from apoptosis – a type of self-destruct program – and not, as might be expected, from cell disintegration, or from immunoglobulins (antibodies) that have been identified as culprits in the MS attack.  
 
Drs Robert P Lisak, Joyce Benjamins (Wayne State University), Amit Bar-Or (McGill University and currently at University of Pennsylvania) and colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Neuroimmunology (2017 Aug 15;309:88-99, published online May 17). This study was supported by the National MS Society (USA), the Research Foundation of the MS Society of Canada, and others.
 
Next Steps: This study offers new insight into how B cells may contribute to nervous system damage in MS. The team is now conducting further studies to identify the toxic factor or factors secreted by the B cells, and when and how they may act in people with MS. They are using “proteomics” for this work, advanced technologies the can identify and quantify numerous molecules simultaneously, along with other approaches. They also plan to answer questions such as whether the toxic B cells are unique to MS or are found in other immune mediated disease, which subsets of B cells produce the toxic effects and whether they are also evident in people with progressive MS.
 
Read More
Learn more about research on the immune system in MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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