UT Southwestern researchers discover how common MS drug slows progression of the disease

DALLAS March 25, 2002 A common drug given to multiple sclerosis patients appears to stimulate weakened immune system cells, according to a study published by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. While Copaxone, or glatiramer acetate, has long been known to slow or stop the progression of attacks in MS patients, researchers have not known exactly how the drug treated the disease. In the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, lead author Dr. Nitin Karandikar, UT Southwestern assistant professor of pathology and neurology, and colleagues report that Copaxone appears to stimulate a certain type of T cell in MS patients.

Produced by the thymus gland, T cells are white blood cells that fight infection and, in healthy people, coordinate the bodys immune response. There are two types of T cells, CD4 and CD8 cells. Both are involved in the immune process that underlies MS and, in MS patients, the cells function abnormally to give rise to this disease.

The researchers used flow cytometry to analyze cells taken from MS patients and were able to see the T cells rallying under the effect of Copaxone.

They saw something else that surprised them.

The CD8 cells responded to the Copaxone in MS patients, which we did not expect to see, said senior author Dr. Michael Racke, UT Southwestern associate professor of neurology.

In the study, researchers also used a new type of test that allowed them to study the weakened immune cells much more effectively. CD8 cells, which typically do not grow well in a tissue culture, were taken directly from the patient instead of being grown by researchers, making their response to Copaxone easier to monitor. The researchers found that CD8 responses to Copaxone were weaker in untreated MS patients and were stimulated by treatment with the drug.

Previous studies had focused on CD4 cells in this disease, Karandikar said. This new approach enabled us to effectively

Contact: Mindy Baxter
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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