CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Steroids help to reduce inflammation, but University of Illinois scientists suggest they also could be used to reverse a loss of myelin -- a major problem in multiple sclerosis and other demyelinating diseases and injuries associated with the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Treatment of MS already includes the use of steroids, because they relieve inflammation and speed remission. The new findings -- published in September's biochemistry section of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- indicate that the steroids dexamethasone and progesterone actually signal the initiation and dramatically increase the rate of myelin synthesis.
"I think this work is very important in that it helps clarify the signals that are responsible for the synthesis of myelin," said Jonah R. Chan, a doctoral student in the department of biochemistry and neuroscience program at the U. of I.
Myelin is a white substance made of fat and proteins that forms in a protective spiral sheath around the axon of nerve fibers. The sheath is a vital component of the body's efficient and rapid
nerve-communication system. When myelin fails to form, nerve signaling breaks down, jeopardizing nerve communications and leading to altered sensations and a multitude of other problems.
What causes a loss of myelin -- demyelination -- in MS cases is not known, but is believed to be the result of an abnormal immune response to bacteria and viruses. While MS affects everyone differently, demyelination is a focal point of research around the world.
"Steroids seem to be very important in regulating the initiation
and synthesis," said Michael Glaser, professor of biochemistry and
lead investigator of the project. "They had been implicated as having
a role in the overall process, but not for enhancing the actual synthesis.
It is our hope that this line of work will lead to a line of treatment
for nerve injuries and demyelinati
Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign