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Autoimmune disease: connection between intestinal flora and MS discovered
Despite intensive research, the exact causes of multiple sclerosis (MS) have still not been clarified. Scientists are now reporting that bacterial intestinal dwellers could play a much larger role in the development of the autoimmune disease than previously thought.
Causes of multiple sclerosis
According to experts, multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. The exact causes of the disease have not yet been clarified. It is believed that hereditary factors and environmental factors, among other things, lead to a malfunction of the immune system. In addition, a few years ago an international team of scientists found evidence that human intestinal bacteria can trigger multiple sclerosis. Researchers from Switzerland are now reporting that bacterial intestinal dwellers could play a much larger role in the development of the autoimmune disease than previously thought.
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the body's defense system is directed against the sheaths of nerve cells and increasingly breaks them down.
Since these shells consist of so-called myelin - a biological membrane made of fats and proteins - science has so far focused on myelin components in its search for the target antigens of the disease.
However, new results from the research group headed by Mireia Sospedra and Roland Martin from the Clinical Research Focus Multiple Sclerosis at the University of Zurich (UZH) now suggest that it is worthwhile to broaden the narrow perspective in order to gain a better understanding of the disease process.
New knowledge could soon be used therapeutically
As the scientists report in the journal "Science Translational Medicine", the so-called T-helper cells - the immune cells responsible for the pathological processes - react to a protein called GDP-L-fucose synthase.
This enzyme is produced by both human cells and bacteria, which are found frequently in the intestinal flora of MS patients.
"We think that the immune cells in the intestine are activated, then migrate into the brain and trigger an inflammatory cascade there when they encounter the human variant of their target antigen," Mireia Sospedra explained in a message.
For the genetically defined subset of MS patients they examined, their results showed that bacterial colonists could play a much larger role in causing the disease than previously thought, Sospedra said.
The scientist hopes that the findings will soon be used therapeutically - and plans to test the immune-active components of GDP-L-fucose synthase in an approach that the researchers have been pursuing for several years.
Educate the immune system
"Our clinical approach is specifically directed against the pathological autoreactive immune cells," says Sospedra. It differs radically from the treatments currently available that throttle the entire immune system.
Although they often succeed in stopping the development of the disease, the treatments also weaken the immune system - and can therefore sometimes cause serious side effects.
In the group's clinical trial, the researchers draw blood from MS patients. In the laboratory, they stick the immune-active protein fragments to the surface of the red blood cells.
If they then reintroduce the blood into the body, the fragments help to transform the patient's immune system and make them tolerant of their own brain tissue.
This therapy aims for an effective targeted treatment without serious side effects. (ad)