Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune system attacks and destroys the protective coating (myelin sheath) around nerve cells. This coating consists of myelin - a biological membrane of proteins and fatty substances - that is why research efforts to find the target antigen of the disease have so far focused on the components of the myelin membrane. New discoveries made by the research group Mireia Sospedra and Roland Martin from the Priority Program of Clinical Trials of the University of Zurich suggest that it is worth expanding the research perspective to better understand the pathological processes.
In an article published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, scientists report that T cells – i.e. immune cells responsible for pathological processes - react to a protein called GDP-L-fucose synthase. This enzyme is formed in human cells, as well as in bacteria that often occur in the gastrointestinal flora of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. We believe that immune cells are activated in the intestine and then migrate to the brain where they cause an inflammatory cascade when they encounter a human variant of the target antigen, says Mireia Sospedra.
In the case of a genetically defined subgroup of MS patients studied by scientists, the results show that intestinal microflora may play a much greater role in the pathogenesis of the disease than previously assumed. Mireia Sospedra hopes that these discoveries will soon be translated into therapy; is going to test the immunoreactive components of GDP-L-fucose synthesis by an approach that scientists have been pursuing for several years.
Re-shaping the immune system
Our clinical approach is directed specifically at pathological autoreactive immune cells
This approach is radically different from other currently available treatments that suppress the entire immune system. While these treatments often effectively stop the development of the disease, they also undermine the immune system - and can thus cause serious side effects.
The clinical approach of the research group is to take blood from MS patients in a clinical trial and then attach fragments of immunoreactive proteins to the surface of red blood cells in the laboratory. When blood is reintroduced into the bloodstream of the patients, the fragments help in the re-education of the activity of their immune system and make them tolerate their own brain tissue. This therapeutic approach is aimed at effective targeted treatment without serious side effects.