Montreal, May 12, 2003. A new discovery by scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University may provide insights into Multiple Sclerosis. In a study published in the May issue of the Journal of Neuroscience (J. Neuroscience 2003 23: 3735-3744), Dr. Tim Kennedy and colleagues have discovered that a protein called netrin-1 directs the normal movement of the cells that become oligodendrocytes in the developing spinal cord. Oligodendrocytes are the cells that provide critical support for the nerve cells they make myelin, the electrical insulation of the central nervous system. They are also the cells that degenerate and die in Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Although oligodendrocytes play an essential role in the nervous system, many aspects of their basic cell biology are not well understood, which is one of the reasons why MS is such a mystery. This research finding identifies a fundamental mechanism that directs migrating oligodendrocyte precursor cells. This has implications for understanding demyelinating diseases such as MS, where even a small myelin deficit can lead to functional impairment of the nerve cell.
An estimated 50,000 people have MS, which is most often diagnosed in young adults. Its devastating effects last a lifetime and may include problems in seeing or speaking, difficulty with balance and coordination, and even paralysis. "Dr. Kennedy's research will contribute to the growing body of knowledge which is developing new therapies for MS," said Dr. William McIlroy, MS Society of Canada national medical advisor.
"In order to treat a disease in the most effective way possible, it is necessary to understand the manner in which proteins function," said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. "Dr. Kennedy's discovery is a vital step in understanding the root causes of MS and will play a role in one day developing an entirely new generation of drugs to combat this condition."
Contact: Sandra McPherson
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