Multiple sclerosis is an example of a disease that occurs when the immune system acts against the body it's supposed to defend. In this case, nerve-cell projections, or axons, in the brain and spinal cord are destroyed because of inflammatory reactions that are misdirected. A team of researchers in Germany recently discovered that, if caught early enough, some of the damage to these nerve cells can actually be reversed, leaving open a possible new avenue for early treatment of MS.
Inflammatory reaction can induce a previously unknown type of problem that Technical University of Munich researchers are calling "focal axonal degeneration" (FAD). FAD can damage axons that are still wrapped in their protective myelin sheaths, the researchers said in a release, which explains why spontaneous remission of symptoms occur early in MS. "In its early stages, axonal damage is spontaneously reversible," said researcher Martin Kerschensteiner in a statement. "This finding gives us a better understanding of the disease, but it may also point to a new route to therapy, as processes that are in principle reversible should be more susceptible to treatment."
Kerschensteiner warns, however, that they only have a superficial understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms and it will take much more time before drug-trial candidates could be developed. Still, he said, the results are encouraging for a possible new target for treating MS.
- read the release