August 15, 2013

Researchers Finding New Clues To Beat MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with devastating consequences.  What causes MS is still unknown, but it is clear that the disease is perpetuated by repeated attacks of the nervous system by cells from a person’s own immune system. Texas A&M University researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and the Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience have uncovered a pathway that the brain cells use to blunt these attacking immune cells.

Astrocytes (red) were treated with tumor necrosis factor in culture and the expression of galectin-9 examined (green). Astrocytes expressing galectin-9 are shown in yellow. Photo: Texas A&M University

Jianrong Li

Jianrong Li

Andrew Steelman, Roger Smith, Jane Welsh and Jianrong Li have investigated how the brain cells called astrocytes produce a protein named galectin-9 and suppress the autoreactive immune cells that are capable of invading and damaging the central nervous system. Their work is published in the current issue of The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“We and others have found that galectin-9 is increased in the MS brain, but what it does is not known,” explains Li, the senior author of the study.

“Because this protein is not normally found in the brain, we were particularly interested in how it becomes induced,” adds Steelman, the lead author of the paper.  “The results of our study show that galectin-9 is turned on in astrocytes under inflammatory conditions and has the potential to kill autoimmune cells.”

Roger Smith

Roger Smith

Multiple sclerosis affects between 2 and 3 million people worldwide. It seems to affect women at least twice as often as men, and some studies now suggest it could be four times more prevalent in females.

Also, where a person lives seems to affect his or her odds of contracting the disease. The farther a person lives from the equator, the greater his or her chance of getting MS, and people in Scandinavian countries seem to be especially at risk. It usually strikes between the ages of 20 to 50, but in “recent years, there has been an increase in cases of pediatric MS, from age 10 and under,” Welsh, who has studied the disease for more than 25 years, notes.

“As for living far from the equator, some studies indicate that lack of UV light might be a factor in susceptibility to developing MS,” she adds.  “We do know that a lack of vitamin D seems to increase the odds of contracting MS. The disease is influenced by certain factors such as viral infections, environmental factors and stress.”

Andrew Steelman

Andrew Steelman

“The chances of getting MS are about 750 to 1, but if a parent or a sibling has the disease, the odds are greatly increased to 1 in 100. It has struck some high-profile people through the years.”

MS sufferers have included entertainers such as comedian Richard Pryor, talk show host Montel Williams, singers Alan Osmond of the Osmond Brothers and country’s Donna Fargo, actress Teri Garr, former NFL quarterback Roman Gabriel and FOX news commentator Neil Cavuto.  Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said last year she has battled MS since 1998, and former Mouseketeer and actress Annette Funicello fought the disease the last 30 years of her life before dying in April.

There is no cure for MS. However, in recent years, several treatments have become available, and the most effective treatments are those that target the cells of the peripheral immune system, the researchers add.

Jane Welsh

Jane Welsh

“We now know that galectin-9 produced by the brain’s resident astrocytes can restrict the autoimmune cells in culture,” says Li, “but we need to learn more about what happens in the intact brain, and that is what we are currently working on.”

The researchers hope that a better understanding of interactions between the brain cells and the autoimmune cells may one day offer new therapeutic targets for attenuating MS.

The project was funded by research grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Steelman is supported by a fellowship from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Texas A&M.

###
About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents total annual expenditures of more than $776 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.

Media contact: Andrew Steelman at asteelman@cvm.tamu.edu or (979) 845-8786 or Jane Welsh at (979) 862-4974 or jwelsh@cvm.tamu.edu or Jianrong Li at (979) 845-2828 or jrli@cvm.tamu.edu or Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or keith-randall@tamu.edu

Tags: , , , , ,

5 Comments to Researchers Finding New Clues To Beat MS

  1. As a volunteer with the National MS Society, I just want to applaud your efforts into finding a cause for this disease. Those who live with MS are encouraged by the recent discoveries and ground-breaking research being done across the globe. I’m confident that at this pace, a cure will be found in my lifetime.

  2. Jennifer Godwin on August 20th, 2013
  3. I am so grateful for the efforts you are making towards understanding this devastating disease. My sister dealt with this terribly disabling disorder. I look forward to following your progress.

  4. Deb Warren on August 20th, 2013
  5. A friend who has MS has had terrific results from surgeries to basically open up blood flow in the jugular veins via a procedure similar to angioplasty. The condition acronym is CCSVI. Her first surgeries were done in San Diego and her most recent was done Houston – where she two stents inserted into one jugular vein. Not sure if the jugular vein problems are a cause of MS or a result of complications from MS. Regardless, this procedure represents a sea change from the way we currently think of MS as an autoimmune problem when in fact it could be vascular.

  6. Tina E. on August 20th, 2013
  7. I have MS a now for 7 and a half years. On 10/19/2010 I had the procedure for ccsvi and let me tell you, I feel great. No more fatigue, bladder is much better, I could see better than before and a if not for this godsend, I was heading for a wheelchair fast. I was on Avonex for 4 years prior to this procedure and that did nothing but make me like a zombie. I had a sister who passed away from complications due to her MS at the age of 46. I just wished that this procedure was around for her. But I would highly recommend it, but not so much for the stents, yet.

  8. Richie V. on August 20th, 2013
  9. My Daughter, Debbie Cole is a MS patient and has been for over 30 yearsl We certainly hope this research team can come up with the cause. When the cause is known then a cure may be found.
    Extend my Thank You to this research team.
    Robert C (Bob) Steger Jr ’47

  10. Robert C (Bob) Steger,Jr on August 20th, 2013
Share this story

More…