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New Therapeutic Target for Multiple Sclerosis

Scientists focus on nerve damage related to glutamate

Scientists at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada, have discovered a promising new approach to the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). They have identified a previously unknown change in the spinal cord related to MS and a way to alter this change to reduce the nerve-cell damage that occurs with the disease.

The findings, which could lead to the development of new types of drugs to treat MS, were published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

MS is a progressive, often disabling neurological disease that is usually diagnosed in young adults (15 to 40 years of age). Although the precise cause of MS is unknown, the body’s immune response is involved and is the target of all current MS medications. These drugs do not cure the illness, but they do help to alleviate symptoms and to slow disease progression.

The investigators’ new approach is aimed at stopping the nerve damage related to glutamate, an important neurotransmitter in the brain. The researchers focused on a spinal-cord change involving a protein that attaches to a specific cell receptor for the glutamate neurotransmitter. This linked receptor–protein complex was present at higher levels in spinal-cord tissues from deceased MS patients and in animal models of MS.

The researchers created a new peptide –– a tiny piece of protein –– to try and disrupt this change in animal models of MS.

“We found that our peptide disrupted this linkage and led to major improvements in neurological functioning,” said study leader Dr. Fang Liu. Specifically, motor function was significantly better compared with that in a comparison group. The peptide also had a positive effect on the nerve damage associated with MS; it reduced neuron death and protected the myelin coating on neurons from damage, which is characteristic of MS. It also increased survival in the cells that produce myelin.

In MS, inflammation damages myelin in the central nervous system (CNS), which can harm the underlying nerves and interrupt the transmission of nerve impulses. MS is associated with a wide variety of symptoms, based on where the damage occurs in the CNS.

Importantly, the new peptide did not appear to suppress the body’s immune response system directly and did not impair physiologically essential neuron transmission in the brain –– a common adverse effect of drugs targeting the glutamate system, Liu noted.

“Our priority now would be to extend this research and to determine how this discovery can be translated into treatment for patients,” she said.

Source: EurekAlert; February 17, 2015

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