Mechanism That Worsens MS During Infection Onset Found

Researchers may have found the reason why autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis may worsen at the onset of infection. Scientists from the University of Nottingham discovered a molecular mechanism that may be behind the worsening of MS and other autoimmune diseases when an infection besets an individual suffering from such diseases. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Immunology.

The researchers focused on a certain cell population in the immune system known as regulatory T cells. These cells control and regulate the behavior of the other cells in the immune system. When the immune system is functioning normally, the regulatory T cells, also known as Tregs help control the tendency of other immune cells to overreact and eventually cause inflammation when the body comes under attack from infections caused by viruses and bacteria.

According to Dr. Bruno Gran from the School of Clinical Sciences at the University of Nottingham, “The connection between infections and MS is complex. We have known for many years that in some cases, infections can promote disease exacerbations (also known as “MS relapses”). Our study sheds light on a new mechanism that could explain how infections can trigger such relapses. This might have relevance to other autoimmune diseases as well”

The group of researchers has discovered that bacteria and viruses activate the Toll-like receptors or TLR’s in the immune system. This effect causes the Tregs from performing their regulating functions in the immune system properly. This leads to inflammatory immune cells to react more against incoming infectious agents in order to eliminate them. The increased activity by the inflammatory immune cells can also increase the occurrence of autoimmune reactions on the body’s own organs such as the central nervous system.

The researchers also discovered that when TLR’s were activated by stimulating them with certain molecules, the regulatory T cells themselves function similar to inflammatory T cells, further explaining why certain autoimmune reactions may also occur on the onset of certain infections.

While the study involved mostly healthy subjects, ongoing studies have started comparing the properties of the regulatory T cells with the test group with those T cells obtained from patients with MS. Previous studies have indicated that Tregs may not be functioning well in MS patients. The findings of the study may be able to contribute to the understanding of how bouts if infections may trigger the occurrence of autoimmunity, which is known to influence the progress and development of MS.

Source: Medical News Today

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