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Animal Studies Offer Insights Into MS

Scientists eye alternative, 'potentially reversible' source of neural damage

THURSDAY, Sept. 23, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Direct interaction between immune cells and nerve cells (neurons) appears to play a major role in neuronal damage associated with multiple sclerosis, says a new European study.

This interaction may offer a new target for treatment of MS, said the German researchers.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that damages the protective myelin sheath covering the nerves of the central nervous system, often resulting in numbness, vision problems and severe muscle weakness.

In this study, the scientists used imaging technology to examine the role of immune cells in causing neuronal damage in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), which is an animal model of MS.

The findings are published online Sept. 23 in the journal Immunity.

The researchers observed direct interaction between immune cells and neurons that resulted in increased calcium levels that were "toxic" and damaged neurons.

Watching the disease in action with an imaging device showed the nerve dysfunction associated with the disease to be "early and potentially reversible," wrote Professor Frauke Zipp, of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, and colleagues in a news release from the publisher.

This, he said, "suggests that [immune-related] disturbances of the neurons themselves contribute to multiple sclerosis, in addition to interruptions in nerve cell transmission as a result of changes to the myelin sheath."

"Furthermore, immune-mediated reversible calcium increases in neurons are a viable target for future therapeutics," he concluded.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to learn more about MS.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Sept. 23, 2010
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