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Mouse Studies Offer Clues to How MS is Triggered and New Pathways to Treat Progressive MS

December 5, 2019

An international team of researchers supported by the National MS Society, the International Progressive MS Alliance, and other funders report from mouse studies that they have uncovered biological interactions that may get us closer to understanding what triggers MS. The team is led by Francisco Quintana, PhD (Harvard Medical School), who is a Harry Weaver Scholar of the National MS Society and leads an Alliance Collaborative Network Award.
  • The findings involve brain cells called astrocytes, and their internal responses that can lead to inflammation and nervous system damage such as what occurs in MS, and in particular, secondary progressive MS. The researchers add to growing evidence that metabolism (processes that break down materials to produce energy) and inflammation are linked. They found that the ability of astrocytes to metabolize a specific protein, sphingolipid, resulted in increased inflammatory activity.   
  • By blocking specific cell activity in mice using the drug Miglustat, which is used to treat rare metabolic disorders, the team provided additional weight to the idea that these pathways may be involved in disease-causing dysfunctions underlying MS. The team suggests that Miglustat or similar compounds may hold promise for treating progressive MS.
  • These findings also identify novel potential ways that viruses – which are considered candidates as possible triggers of MS – could affect the course of this disease.
  • The paper, “Metabolic control of astrocyte pathogenic activity via cPLA2-MAVS,” by Drs. Francisco Quintana, Chun-Cheih Chao (Harvard Medical School) and collaborators, was published online on December 5,2019 in the journal Cell.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. 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. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.

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