May 06, 2002
By MARY POWERS
Scripps Howard News Service
There is new evidence antibody confusion plays a role in human disease, a finding with tantalizing implications for understanding what triggers ailments like multiple sclerosis.
The work, published in the latest issue of Nature Medicine, was directed by Dr. Michael Levin of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Memphis Veterans Medical Center.
It reinforces a concept, known as molecular mimicry, that's been studied for decades in hopes of understanding what goes wrong when patients develop problems like MS, diabetes and lupus.
Levin's group focused on tropical spastic paraparesis (TSP), a disease often mistaken for MS that is common in the Caribbean, South America and southern Japan. Levin studies TSP looking for insights into MS, which affects between 1 million-2 million people worldwide.
In this study, researchers working with mice found that the proteins TSP patients produced to fight that viral illness also mistakenly attacked healthy brain cells. Those proteins, called antibodies, are made by the patient's immune system to battle the virus that causes TSP.
The antibodies appear to sicken but not kill the cells. "The next logical step is to try and understand how the antibodies are damaging nerve cells and how we can apply this to people with MS," Levin said.
Researchers also identified the protein in brain cells that the antibodies target.
"We think that MS patients might make antibodies to this protein or a related protein," Levin explained. The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs funded the research.
Dr. Kai Wucherpfennig of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School called the study a significant advance in understanding what triggers such diseases. Wucherpfennig wrote a commentary that accompanied the report.
He said the research provides new evidence an infection can trigger the internal biochemical cascade that damages normal cells. There is experimental evidence that the process is at work in MS and another neurological disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
TSP patients have brain and spinal cord damage very similar to that
experienced by those battling chronic progressive MS. But Levin said there
is no evidence the same virus causes both diseases.
© The Albuquerque Tribune