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Multiple Sclerosis Study Reveals Possible Trigger

June 27, 2017

Researchers believe that multiple sclerosis (MS) is caused by the body’s own immune system, unleashing an uncontrolled attack on myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells (neurons). A study published by Israeli scientists in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), found a structural instability in the myelin membranes, the “insulating tape,” surrounding neurons. This vulnerability seems to be what gives the immune system access to otherwise protected regions. “We found that small modifications in the myelin sheaths create structural instabilities that may help the immune system to enter and attack neurons,” said principal investigator Prof. Roy Beck of Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy and Sagol School of Neurosciences.

The research, conducted by Rona Shaharabani, a doctoral student in Prof. Beck’s lab, pinpoints the precise alterations to the myelin sheaths that result in structural instabilities, creating “easy access” for autoimmune attacks. He explained that the lipid-and-protein building blocks of the myelin sheaths give the membrane a shape that is critical to their functioning. For the purpose of the research, the scientists harnessed X-ray light to examine hundreds of membrane model systems that mimicked those of healthy and diseased animal models. The team also used electron microscopy to determine the different nanoscopic structures of both natural myelin sheaths and model system membranes. “The next step is to find a way to reverse the disease progression and find new techniques for early detection,” said Beck.

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