Study Suggests Nerve Cell Damage In MS May Be Reversible

University researchers from Munich, Germany have discovered that nerve cells may start to degenerate spontaneously even though their protective myelin coating still remains intact. The researchers also discovered that if treated early, the said process can be reversed in mice. This recent discovery may also possibly lead to new treatment targets for MS. The said study findings were published in Nature Medicine.

The senior authors of the study, Professor Martin Kerschensteiner of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich, Germany, and Professor Thomas Misgeld from the Technical University of Munich, discovered a previously unknown type of axon or nerve cell degeneration. The said nerve cell degeneration, which the study authors termed as focal axonal degeneration or FAD, seem to occur even while the myelin coating on the damaged cells do not seem to be damaged.

The prevailing view concerning axonal damage especially in MS cases is that it occurs when the immune system attacks the nervous system and causes damage to the nerve cells. This is then followed by the gradual destruction of the myelin coating of the cells, which acts as a protective insulator to allow faster transmission of signals from the brain to all parts of the body and vice versa. But as Kerschensteiner and Misgeld discovered, this may not be necessarily the case.

The said study involved the researchers injecting a subset of axons in mice with an animal model of MS with a fluorescent protein to allow them to directly observe what happens through fluorescence microscopy. The researchers found out that by injecting the mice with myelin, an immune response is activated with the mice starting to show symptoms attributed to MS.

Through their observation, the researchers discovered that there were many axons that showed early signs of damage but seem to have an intact myelin coating. This may suggest that myelin damage is not always a prerequisite to axon damage. The researchers attributed FAD to be responsible for the said primary damage to nerve cells.

The researchers also found out that FAD occurs in sequential stages, beginning with focal swellings and then lead to axon fragmentation. While most of the swollen axons may remain unchanged for several days, there are other cells that seem to recover spontaneously. It is in these early stages that the researchers saw FAD in axons with intact myelin sheaths. This may be a possible explanation why some MS patients may sometimes experience a sudden remission of the symptoms.

According to Kerschensteiner, “In its early stages, axonal damage is spontaneously reversible. This finding gives us a better understanding of the disease, but it may also point to a new route to therapy, as processes that are in principle reversible should be more susceptible to treatment.”

What the researchers agree on is that further needed, especially on the underlying molecular mechanisms involved in the said nerve cell damage that happens under FAD. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done before effective MS treatments may be developed and presented to the public.


You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply