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Study by Society-supported Researchers Hints at Why Men Tend to Get MS Less Often Than Women

January 31, 2018

A happy mistake in the lab of immunologist Melissa Brown, PhD (Northwestern University) has led to an important new discovery that might help explain why men get MS less frequently than women, and may ultimately lead to a whole new treatment approach for people with MS. Dr. Brown and her National MS Society-supported team were conducting lab studies to understand the effect of a genetic mutation that prevented female mice from getting an MS-like disease. When male mice with this mutation were accidently used, the researchers saw that, unlike females, it caused them to get worse disease.

Instead of scrapping the results, Dr. Brown focused on their possible meaning. The team found that this mutation knocks out a biological pathway that uses an immune messenger protein, called “IL-33,” that is normally stimulated by testosterone.  When females were given IL-33, they were surprisingly protected from developing MS-like disease. Dr. Brown has successfully leveraged the discovery to gain a new research grant from the National Institutes of Health.   

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.