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Researchers Use Stem Cells To Uncover Possible Clue To Why Myelin Repair Fails in Primary Progressive MS

November 30, 2016

Summary
  • Researchers co-funded by the National MS Society report that nerve stem cells programmed from  the blood of people with primary progressive MS, did not protect mice from injury of nerve-insulating myelin, and did not promote myelin repair in lab dishes, compared to cells from people without MS.
  • The results suggest that the function of nerve stem cells from people with primary progressive MS may be altered in ways that inhibit natural protective responses to injury and myelin repair.
  • If confirmed through further research, these findings provide a new perspective for understanding primary progressive MS and developing new treatment approaches.
  • The team (Alexandra M. Nicaise, Stephen J. Crocker, PhD, and colleagues at University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington) has published results in Experimental Neurology (288 (2017) 114–121).
 
Background: The primary progressive form of MS is characterized by worsening neurologic function (accumulation of disability) from the onset of symptoms, without early relapses or remissions. MS damages myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. Loss of myelin impairs nerve signaling, leading to disability in people with MS. In the brain, myelin repair is conducted by immature cells that are stimulated during injury to become mature oligodendrocytes. Often in MS, especially in progressive MS, myelin repair fails to keep up with the damage. Promoting myelin repair is viewed as a promising approach to protecting nerve fibers from injury and possibly restoring function in people with MS, including people with primary progressive MS. This team sought to determine whether cells from individuals with primary progressive MS may hold clues to why myelin repair becomes stalled.
 
The Study: The team obtained blood samples from people with primary progressive MS and their spouses or blood relatives, and reprogrammed the cells to become iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells). iPSCs can produce many types of cells. From the iPSCs, the team developed nerve stem cells, which have been shown in previous studies to stimulate the maturation of oligodendrocytes. These were then injected into mice with myelin damage.
 
They reported that the nerve stem cells derived from people with primary progressive MS did not provide the expected protection from myelin damage, whereas the cells from the people without MS prevented injury. The team also showed that the nerve stem cells from people with primary progressive MS did not promote myelin repair in lab dishes, compared to those from spouses and relatives, and that their influence on oligodendrocytes differed among individuals. .
 
The team (Alexandra M. Nicaise, Stephen J. Crocker, PhD, and colleagues at University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington) has published results in Experimental Neurology (288 (2017) 114–121).
 
Next Steps: If confirmed through further research, these findings provide an important clue for understanding why myelin repair may fail in people with primary progressive MS. They may also offer new pathways to developing new treatment approaches, write the authors. They discuss needs for future research, including studies to determine if this flaw occurs before or after the development of primary progressive MS, and whether this occurs in people with other forms of MS.
                                                            
Read more about research on progressive MS
Read more about stem cell research 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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