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Researchers Identify Nerve Cells That Are Vulnerable to Damage in MS

July 18, 2019

Findings contribute to efforts to stopping MS progression

SUMMARY
  • Collaborators in Cambridge and San Francisco used advanced technology to evaluate genetic instructions within single brain cells in specific areas of brain tissues from people who had MS in their lifetimes, before there were disease-modifying therapies.
  • They report that a specific type of nerve cell called “projection neurons” – which normally facilitate communication between different areas of the brain – are especially vulnerable to damage in the cortex (the outer region of the brain, associated with disease progression and cognitive impairment).
  • They also confirmed the role of immune B cells in this type of damage.
  • This study yields important new information about how MS may progress and why certain symptoms worsen. If confirmed, it is likely to contribute to efforts to develop better, more targeted ways to stop the disease, protect the nervous system from further injury, and slow down MS progression.
  • This study was funded by the National MS Society and the National Institutes of Health, among others.
  • The team published their findings in Nature (Published: 17 July 2019)
 
DETAILS
Background: MS occurs when the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. Disease  progression is associated with damage in the cortex, the outer region of the brain, which is responsible for directing cognitive functions.
 
The Study: Investigators at the University of Cambridge and the University of California, San Francisco looked at tissue obtained from 12 people with MS via autopsy (who had never received modern disease-modifying therapies) and from 9 controls without the disease. They used single-nucleus RNA sequencing, a novel technology which allowed them to isolate many types of cells in the cortex, evaluate the genetic instructions and compare different populations of cells.
 
The researchers pinpointed a striking reduction of one cell type in the brain tissue obtained from people with MS – so called “projection neurons.” These are nerve cells involved in communicating information between distant areas of the brain. Further results showed that immune B cells were increased in areas with more damage to those projection neurons, highlighting the role of this immune cell type.
 
This work, by Drs. David Rowitch, Lucas Schirmer and others, was funded by the National MS Society and the National Institutes of Health, among others. Dr. Schirmer was a postdoctoral fellow of the Society, funded by the Dave Tomlinson Research Fund. The team published their findings in Nature (Published: 17 July 2019)

Conclusions: This study yields important new information about how MS may progress and why certain symptoms worsen. If confirmed, it is likely to contribute to efforts to develop better, more targeted ways to stop the disease, protect the nervous system from further injury, and slow down MS progression.
 
Read more about efforts to understand tissue damage 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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