Biomarker could be key to MS Dx and targeted treatment

In the push to treat multiple sclerosis, scientists believe that they've spotted another biomarker that could be key to both diagnosis and treatment: the IL-6 protein pathway.

Credit scientists from the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason in Seattle with the finding. Details are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Their belief in IL-6 proteins as a solid MS biomarker for diagnosis and treatments stems from how effector T cells behave in MS patients. MS hits, for example, when regulatory T cells can't keep effector T cells from attacking myelin. The team found that patients with relapsing-remitting MS experienced resistance to effector T cell suppression, but patients with mild or better-controlled variations of the disease didn't have the same resistance.

With that in mind, they theorized that physicians could learn how active MS was and how likely it would be to advance by determining whether the body was generating T cell resistance or not. Taken further, they determined that relapsed-remitting MS patients had a higher sensitivity to IL-6 along with their resistance to T cell suppression. The immune system produces IL-6, which appears to influence effector T cell resistance to regulatory T cell suppression. And so the finding carries a potential clue to future targeted treatments. The team found in patient samples that by blocking IL-6 signals in the affected T cells, resistance to effector T cell suppression washes away.

Could this be a target to at least modulate MS in the future? Perhaps. The researchers term the move as "an exciting step." But more must be done, such as determining at which stage IL-6 proteins can be used to predict MS' severity. But they won't have to go far to find potential compounds for clinical trials. Jane Buckner, co-author of the work and a BRI researcher, notes in a statement that drugs targeting the IL-6 pathway are already on the market to treat other autoimmune diseases. And with the same biomarker potentially identified for MS, she advocates testing those drugs in MS patients.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract

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