Enzymes in the brain are not supposed to chew up proteins the way enzymes do in the digestive track. However, the study of an unusual brain enzyme that may contribute to multiple sclerosis has started a Florida State University chemist along a path that could one day lead to a treatment for MS, and promote healing of the damage it causes
Florida State University
Enzymes in the brain are not supposed to chew up proteins the way enzymes do in the digestive track. However, the study of an unusual brain enzyme that may contribute to multiple sclerosis has started a Florida State University chemist along a path that could one day lead to a treatment for MS, and promote healing of the damage it causes.
"Not only does the enzyme attack proteins and myelin-sheathed nerve cells in the brain, which causes them to demyelinate, but it also seems to block the body's natural healing process, or ability to remyelinate," said FSU chemistry and biochemistry Associate Professor Michael Blaber. "I'm working to design an inhibitor to slow down the enzyme's demyelination, which then might allow the body to naturally repair damage done by MS."
Blaber's research on the enzyme, otherwise known as a myelencephalon-specific protease enzyme, is being funded by a one-year National Multiple Sclerosis Society grant. The enzyme, which is a relatively new discovery, is found in animals and humans. But because it is difficult to extract from a human spinal cord or brain for study, Blaber has recreated the enzyme in two ways.
Blaber found the enzyme's homologue, or corresponding enzyme, in rats, and also took human DNA - the codes of the protein - and mass produced it in a different organism. In this case, he used insect cells to produce large amounts of the human gene for study.
Once he had material to work with,
he set out to discover what the
enzyme looked like.
"The enzyme is a 'kallikrein,' and before we started, there were no crystal structures of any human kallikreins," Blaber said. "In other words, we didn't know what they looked like. But now, we've solved the atomic resolution structure of the enzyme using X-ray crystallography. Now that we know what the structure of the atoms look like, we'll be better able to design inhibitors that could slow the enzyme's destructive effects and promote the body's natural healing process.
"Even though this research is in its infancy and a cure for multiple sclerosis has not been found, the possibility for one is still very exciting," Blaber said.
Blaber came to the research through a colleague at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., who discovered the enzyme and suggested Blaber research it.
"Currently, I'm collaborating with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. It's a great collaboration because they're expert at tissue studies in animals and humans, and we're protein chemists. We can express the protein and send it to them to study it and find out how it behaves in various tissues."
The grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is the first it has given to a Tallahassee researcher.
"Our chapter is research driven," said Jennifer Lee, president of the North Florida Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "We recognize the importance of research and a large number of the dollars we raise goes to research. Since our founding in 1946, the National MS Society has invested over $320 million to find the cure for MS and develop effective treatments for the disease, so we're excited about the work Michael Blaber is doing through the grant."
Lee added that the chapter raises
more than $1 million annually, which is split between client services and
research. The chapter serves about 2,600 people living with multiple sclerosis.
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