May 28, 2004
A new study has identified molecules that lead to nerve fiber degeneration in patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS).
Researchers at Yale, the Veterans Administration (VA) and University College London examined postmortem spinal cord tissue from patients with a progressive form of MS.
Using biomarkers of the damaged nerve fibers, they looked for molecular abnormalities and found a strong link between nerve damage and the presence of two molecules, Nav. 1.6 and NCX, a sodium channel and a sodium-calcium exchanger.
Located on the surface of most nerve fibers, Nav.1.6 controls the flow of sodium into the cell, which in turn triggers the activation of NCX, a molecule that, if unchecked, imports abnormal levels of calcium into the nerve fiber that ultimately lead to its death.
MS is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system in which myelin, the insulation that surrounds the nerve fibers, is damaged in multiple regions, leaving scars that hinder the relay of nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body. It cripples nearly three million people every year.
In progressive forms of the disease, entire lengths of the nerve fibers begin to degenerate, resulting in permanent and irreparable damage, a steady worsening of symptoms and accumulation of disability.
"These results are extremely exciting because they provide, for the
first time, important clues about the molecular basis for permanent and
irreversible damage in MS," said Stephen Waxman, M.D., the lead investigator,
chair of neurology and director of the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development
Center in West Haven.
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