New MS Drug Target Found

shutterstock_177026120Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating disease that involves the body’s own immune system attacking the cells in the central nervous system. The immune cells attack the myelin in the nerve cells, the coating that insulates the cells and allow them to transmit electrical signals from the brain to the other parts of the body and vice versa.

While the cause of multiple sclerosis largely remains unknown, scientists know that the immune system is involved. Current MS treatments target the immune system to help treat the progressive disease. It does not cure the condition but merely alleviates the symptoms associated with the disease and slow down its progression.

New research from scientists from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health may have found a possible new target for treating MS. The scientists have discovered a previously unknown change in the spinal cord that may be linked to MS. Finding a way to alter this change can help reduce the nerve damage caused by the disease.

The research team, led by Dr. Fang Liu, a Senior Scientist in CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Toronto, identified a type of protein that attaches to an important brain transmitter called glutamate. This protein, which attaches to a specific cell receptor for the glutamate neurotransmitter, was seen at high levels is the spinal cord tissues of deceased MS patients as well as in animal models of the said disease.

The potential for the new MS treatment was further confirmed when Dr. Liu and her team was able to develop a new peptide or a tiny piece of protein to try and disrupt the changes they investigated in animal models of MS. According to Dr. Liu, “We found that our peptide disrupted this linkage, and led to major improvements in neurological functioning.”

The new approach done in the lab led to major improvements in motor function in animal models of MS compared to a comparison group. The developed peptide also had a positive impact on the disease as it was able to reduce neuron death and helped rescue the protective coating in neurons called myelin. Furthermore, it also helped increase the survival rates of cells that produce myelin.

In addition, the researchers discovered that the new peptide did not appear to suppress the body’s immune system response nor did it affect the neuron transmission in the brain, which is a common side effect when using drugs that target the glutamate system. The researchers will be conducting further studies to determine how the discovery can lead to novel treatments for MS. Findings of the said study are published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2015, February 17). Multiple sclerosis: New drug target discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 24, 2015 from

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