Multiple sclerosis is a disease due to an inflammatory reaction provoked by the immune system. It causes the disruption of the coating of the nerve fibres in the Central Nervous System.
"We do not know what causes multiple sclerosis", explains Francesco Ria, immunologist of the Catholic University. "We know that there exist a genetic factor and an environmental factor, but we do not yet posses a satisfactory theory which can explain how exactly this environmental factor works".
Currently, there are two competing theories on the field: according to a first hypothesis, a virus hides within the brain and what causes the disease is the immunologic antiviral reaction. On the other hand, the second hypothesis states that a viral or bacterial pathogen similar to specific molecules of the Central Nervous System causes an inflammation which provokes a reaction of the immune system. This reaction ends up destroying the brain cells. The latter is called the autoimmune hypothesis.
This is the hypothesis that the researchers coming from the Institutes of General Pathology, Microbiology and Anatomy of the Catholic University of Rome have been testing with their two-year long work. To demonstrate the viability of this idea, scientists have fooled the mouse immune system, modifying subtly a bacterium of the common family of mycobacteria (the same family to which also the bacterium causing tuberculosis belongs) to make it look like to myelin, the protein coating nerve cells. This modified mycobacterium is completely innocuous. As all external agents, though, it is capable to trigger the reaction of the T-cells of the immune systems. They intervene to destroy it. Since they are innocuous bacteria, although very common in the environment, and since they induce an immune reaction, they are the ideal bacteria scientists can use to study the environmental factor contributing, together with the genetic factor, to cause multiple sclerosis.
"Normally, T-cells cannot penetrate into the Central Nervous System", adds Rea, "because the hematoencephalic barrier prevents them from doing so. But the bacterium modifies the characteristics of the T-cells and allows them to overcome the barrier. In 15 days the bacterium disappears completely from the body".
Yet these T-cells can now enter into the brain. This way, they begin to attack the myelin of the nerve cells, and here is how the immune disease breaks out.
"We basically demonstrate – explains Rea – that in an animal model it is possible to be infected with something not carrying any disease, and later on develop a purely autoimmune disease".
Yet there is another element in this complex research, sponsored by the Italian Association of Multiple Sclerosis (AISM). "Normally – clarifies Rea – to understand which diseases we have encountered, we measure the antibodies produced by that specific pathogen. But there is a whole world of infectious agents which do not induce the production of antibodies, as is the case in our research: mycobacteria and many other bacteria produce a very low and variable number of antibodies. It is thus very hard to establish whether a population has encountered that specific infectious agent. So, we demonstrate that those infectious agents which are more likely to produce an autoimmune reaction are just those which do not induce antibody production".
Obviously, this is only the first step to better understand the way this very complex and devastating disease works. Ria and Delogu are not stopping here: "We want to try to understand the exact characteristics which this infectious agent should have", they explain. "Might it truly be a good experimental model for multiple sclerosis? If we had prolonged the action of the bacteria, would we have favoured or hampered the development of the disease? And what about the myelin-like bacterium protein: where should it lie? On the surface, or inside? These are all questions – conclude the two researchers – which we will be trying to answer in the next years, in the hope to defeat this terrible illness. We could even imagine to develop a vaccine by which we could prevent the immune response associated to multiple sclerosis".
Francesco Ria | EurekAlert!
Electrical 'switch' in brain's capillary network monitors activity and controls blood flow
27.03.2017 | Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont
Laser activated gold pyramids could deliver drugs, DNA into cells without harm
24.03.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences