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Documentation of MS progression may lead to new treatment options


A group of researchers have charted the progression of MS and discovered that two lines of thought about the disease actually are interrelated. This could lead to new treatment options.

Disease categorization has focused on two approaches. In the first, MS is seen as a disease of the nervous system that is inflammatory throughout, with the inflammation also being responsible for the subsequent neurodegenerative damage. In the second, the disease is viewed as ultimately progressing from an inflammatory condition into a neurodegenerative one.

However, an international team of researchers from Edinburgh, Cleveland and Vienna, under the leadership of Hans Lassmann, Head of the Department of Neuroimmunology at the MedUni Vienna, has shown that MS is comprised of both factors. The inflammatory process acts as a "driving force" from the onset right to the end, and neurodegenerative processes also occur in the so-called progressive, late phase that damage the brain.

The researchers found that "amplification mechanisms" are triggered in the later stages of MS. The damage becomes amplified in a "self-contained" cycle that continues to cause damage. The neurodegenerative damage in the brain activates microglial cells that drive the disease forward, along with the formation of oxygen radicals that destroy lipids and proteins in the brain. Concurrently, damage occurs to the mitochondria, the power plants and energy providers to brain cells. This – coupled with normal brain aging and the associated deposition of iron – also causes further damage.

Researchers say the new discoveries may result in the development of new disease treatments. One would consist of drugs that have an anti-inflammatory effect in the brain, not just suppressing the defense response in the blood and lymphatic organs. Another would preventively block the amplification mechanisms and damage to the mitochondria.

Their findings have been published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

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