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Researchers Funded by the National MS Society Identify Pathway to Inflammation in MS

February 13, 2020

Researchers at Harvard Medical School used novel technology to look at brain cells known as astrocytes, and determined several molecules that drive these cells to promote inflammation in mouse models of MS-like disease and in tissue obtained from people with MS. The study provides targets for developing therapeutic strategies that may stop MS in its tracks. The authors were funded by the National MS Society and the International Progressive MS Alliance, among others.
  • The most abundant cells in our brains are star-shaped cells known as astrocytes. Under normal conditions, astrocytes transport some of the nutrients nerve cells need, and they are involved in many different activities to keep the brain functioning. But in MS, they are also involved in allowing immune cells to enter the brain to commence attacks, developing the scar tissue (which may inhibit the repair of nerve-insulating myelin that is damaged in MS), and controlling the activity of immune cells that are active during progressive phases of MS.
  • The researchers used novel technology known as “single-cell RNA sequencing.” This technique allows scientists to take a photograph, so to speak, of the gene activity in a single cell at a single point in time. Since cells change over time, this is a valuable tool for determining cells’ contributions to disease-causing processes.
  • Using this technology, they found astrocytes that were characterized by decreased NRF2 (a molecule that protects against inflammation by regulating antioxidant proteins) and increased MAFG (which collaborates with other proteins to stifle antioxidant and anti-inflammatory efforts). Further study will determine if these and other molecules identified can serve as targets in the development of therapies for MS.
“MAFG-driven astrocytes promote CNS inflammation” is published by Michael A. Wheeler, PhD, Francisco J. Quintana, PhD, and colleagues at Harvard Medical School in Nature. Dr. Quintana is soon receiving the 2019 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research for his work in identifying potential therapeutic targets and biomarkers for MS.

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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