New protein causing MS: Hope or Hype?

How does multiple sclerosis begin? This is the million-dollar question and the answer to this question could lead to the ultimate goal of ending MS. Every year the MS Society of Canada invests millions in research to support scientists working to figure out the cause of MS.  While factors contributing to MS development and progression are slowly being discovered, a single cause of MS remains elusive. Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the news about a protein that is believed to be linked  to be the cause of MS, but what’s the hype all about? I had a chance to review the article published in Journal of Neuroinflammation and noted some interesting findings.

Here is the quick breakdown:

  • Researchers from the Universities of Exeter (UK) and Alberta found higher than normallevels of a protein called Rab32 in the brains of people with MS.
  • It is thought that elevated Rab32 protein may be associated with the dysfunction of mitochondria. Mitochondria are structures in our cells which are responsible for energy production throughout the body, enabling cells to function. Therefore, it is no surprise that when there is no energy present, a cell cannot function and often dies.

    A structure found in a cell: Mitochondria Credits: “mitochondria” Erin Hass/ CC BY 2.0

    A structure found in a cell: Mitochondria
    Credits: “mitochondria” Erin Hass/ CC BY 2.0

  • Because mitochondria play an important role in the cell, many scientists have looked deeper at these structures and found that they contribute to neurodegenerative (death of brain cells) diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Now this link expands to MS as well.
  • The researchers found that nerve cells and immune cells called microglia had higher quantities of Rab32 protein within MS lesions, which corresponded to changes in mitochondria that resulted in cell death.
  • These key findings provide a clue around the underlying causes of neurodegeneration in MS, which is especially important for individuals with progressive MS and those who are at risk of transitioning to secondary progressive MS.
  • It also helps us further understand the theory of energy exhaustion as a potential mechanism for nerve damage in MS and players that contribute to it.

So did they find the cause of MS?

These finding have gained significant media attention, but it’s important to note that this research is still in the preliminary stages (cell and animal research), and additional work is required to understand the applications of the research to the treatment of people with MS. However, the study represents an important step in enhancing knowledge on the cause of MS and the pathways that lead to neurodegeneration in MS.

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