More MS news articles for Oct 2001

MS research mutes immune system

Thursday October 18, 05:51 PM

Scientists are developing drugs that silence the immune system's key messengers, after tests in animals suggest this may halt and even reverse the debilitating symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Dr Thomas Lane and his colleagues at the University of California, in Irvine, in the US, found that muting chemical signals called chemokines in crippled mice with a condition like multiple sclerosis (MS) enabled them to walk again.

MS occurs when chemokines summon immune cells - such as T-cells - to the central nervous system, where they attack the protective myelin sheath that coats nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Studies show that the cerebrospinal fluid in MS patients often contains abnormally high levels of these chemicals.

According to a report in this week's New Scientist magazine, Dr Lane's team created antibodies that attached to, and deactivated, a chemokine called CXCL10. They focused on CXCL10 because levels of the chemical shoot up during severe MS flare-ups.

Researchers found that injecting CXCL10 antibodies into mice with a condition like MS slowed demyelination and even appeared to allow myelin to re-grow. The crippled mice walked again, says Dr Lane.

"When we block the influx of T-cells we are giving the central nervous system a breather - time to repair itself," says researcher Dr Lane.

However, the reversal of symptoms was not complete and, despite continued injections, the effects lasted only a few days.

The team suspect this is because the CXCL10 antibodies came from rabbits, which provoked an immune response that neutralised them. They are now repeating the tests with a different version of the antibody.

Dr Richard Ransohoff, an expert in MS at the Lerner Research Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, says that, in terms of treating the inflammation aspects of MS, Dr Lane's work is as promising "as anything one can imagine". But he says the work would need to be confirmed by human trials.

Meddling with chemokines must be done with care, Dr Ransohoff adds. "These molecules provide necessary immune functions. Completely eliminating them isn't safe."

© Health Media Ltd 2001