(06-13) 10:58 PDT STANFORD -- Stanford researchers reported new findings today that they say brings them closer to understanding what causes multiple sclerosis.
In the report published in the online version of the journal Nature, the researchers implicated a protein that normally regulates the human immune system, but doesn't in people with the mysterious disease that afflicts close to 400,000 people in the United States.
Symptoms include fatigue, numbness, weakness and sometimes blindness as the immune system attacks cells of the nervous system.
Most patients experience symptoms intermittently throughout life and take steroids and other drugs to suppress the immune system and control the disease. Researchers, led by Stanford neurologist Dr. Lawrence Steinman, said they are optimistic the discovery will lead to new treatments for patients.
Steinman and his team found that people with the disease had more of the protein, alphaB-crystallin, in their bodies. They looked at both humans and mice.
In mice that were designed to lack the protein and had a multiple sclerosis-type illness, the disease worsened. When the protein was given back to the diseased mice, the illness improved.
Scientists then looked at the fluid in multiple sclerosis patients that cushions the brain and spinal cord, where the disease manifests. More antibodies to the protein they were studying were found in this fluid, said lead author and Stanford neuroscientist Shalina Ousman. The antibodies, they concluded, prevent the protein from working properly, thus causing more inflammation in patients.
The researchers don't know yet if giving more protein to an multiple sclerosis patient would overwhelm the antibodies to fight the disease or if getting rid of these antibodies would help patients, she said.
Dr. Douglas Goodin, director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center who was not involved in the study, said he could see how a drug could be made from the protein but wanted more research into how it contributed to the disease before recommending it to patients.
E-mail Kavita Mishra at firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted 8/23/2007 6:07:45 PM