New study pinpoints cell types affected in brains of MS patients

July 24, 2019
Scientists have discovered that a specific brain cell known as a ‘projection neuron’ has a central role to play in the brain changes seen in multiple sclerosis. The research shows that projection neurons are damaged by the body’s own immune cells, and that this damage could underpin the brain shrinkage and cognitive changes associated with MS. These new findings provide a platform for specific new MS therapies that target damaged brain cells to be developed.

In a new international study from the University of Cambridge, University of Heidelberg, and University of California, San Francisco, researchers used post-mortem human brain samples from MS patients to study a wide range of cell types implicated in the disease, and compared their findings to brain samples donated from people that did not have MS. 

In healthy people, projection neurons are involved in communicating information between different areas of the brain. It is therefore possible that the damage to these cells can affect cognitive abilities in MS patients. Moreover, the loss of this particular cell types helps explain why brains of MS patients shrink over time – the more cells that are damaged and lost, the less space the brain takes up.  

The researchers also showed that immune cells in the brains of MS patients were targeting projection neurons and causing cell stress and damage. They said this suggests that cell therapies targeting these immune cells could protect projection neurons and provide a novel treatment for progressive MS.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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