Eye Protein Could Shield Against MS

AlphaB-crystallin injections reversed paralysis in mice, study found

WEDNESDAY, June 13, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A naturally occurring protein called alphaB-crystallin may help protect against multiple sclerosis-related nerve cell damage and symptoms, say researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

The protein is found primarily in the lens of the eye. It's not normally found in the brain, but develops in response to injuries inflicted on nerve cells by multiple sclerosis (MS). These nerve cell injuries can lead to the loss of motor control and paralysis in MS patients.

In tests on mice with an MS-like disease, the researchers found that alphaB-crystallin helped reduce MS-related symptoms such as inflammation and reduced MS-related cell death. When the protein was injected into the mice, it helped reverse their paralysis.

The study is published in the June 13 online issue of Nature.

Even though alphaB-crystallin is a healing substance, the body's immune system considers expression of the protein in the brain a danger signal and attacks it, said Dr. Lawrence Steinman, a professor of neurology and neurological sciences. The reasons for this are not understood.

"Like a runaway truck careening down a mountain and then having the brakes fall off, the immune attack against alphaB-crystallin worsens the (MS) situation," Steinman said in a prepared statement.

Adding more alphaB-crystallin restores the "failing brakes."

If the results achieved using alphaB-crystallin in mice can be duplicated in humans, the protein may someday be used to treat MS.

"It is a real delight to see that the same material that is naturally produced, that has these protective effects, could potentially be harnessed and used as a therapeutic itself," Steinman said.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about multiple sclerosis.

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, June 13, 2007
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