St. Louis, May 13, 1998 -- Scientists have identified a protein that may trigger the friendly fire that damages nerves in multiple sclerosis (MS). They hope that part of this protein eventually may be useful for therapy.
Immune system cells of MS patients attack the insulating coating around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, creating bare patches and scars. Like damaged electrical wires, these nerve cells are unable to transmit impulses efficiently, so patients develop sensory and muscle problems. The coating, called myelin, is made of lipids and proteins.
"For years, researchers have been looking for something in myelin that is more visible to the immune system in MS patients than in healthy people " such a component is likely to be central to the disease," says John L. Trotter, M.D., the Gordon R. and Thelma B. Coates Scholar and professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "This is the first report of such a substance."
The researchers published their findings in the April issue of the Journal of Neuroimmunology, which will appear mid-May. Trotter is lead author.
Except for trauma, multiple sclerosis is the most common cause of neurological disability among young adults, affecting 250,000 to 350,000 Americans. Depending on where the immune cells attack, the disorder can affect movement, sensation, bladder and bowel control, sexual performance, vision and many other functions.
For the past 40 years, scientists have focused on a myelin component
called myelin basic protein, which causes an MS-like disease when injected into
animals. But in the 1970s, Trotter became interested in another constituent
called myelin proteolipid protein (PLP). It accounts for about half of the
protein in myelin and, when injected, also gives animals MS symptoms, Trotter
has shown. The protein has been largely ignored, however, because it doesn't
dissolve in water and therefor
Contact: Linda Sage
Washington University School of Medicine