WEDNESDAY, Oct. 12, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that a single molecule called IL-6 is the cause of transverse myelitis (TM), an autoimmune disease in the central nervous system that's related to multiple sclerosis.
The study found that levels of IL-6 are dramatically elevated in the spinal fluid of people with TM. The finding may help in the development of treatments for both TM and multiple sclerosis.
"This is the first time a single culprit has been identified as causing a CNS (central nervous system) autoimmune disease," researcher Dr. Adam Kaplin, a psychiatrist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.
IL-6 is a chemical messenger that immune system cells use to communicate with each other. Most TM patients suffer a single attack, but 15 percent to 30 percent of TM patients go on to develop full-blown multiple sclerosis. TM usually results in permanent impairment, including leg and arm weakness, bowel and bladder dysfunction, pain and paralysis.
The researchers decided to investigate IL-6 because TM patients suffer from memory impairment and depression. Previous research implicated IL-6 in mood and concentration disorders.
The study appears in the October issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about transverse myelitis.