Researchers Identify Cells That May Help Myelin Regeneration


Researchers may have identified cells that could reverse MS progression.

A team of scientists in Northern Ireland has potentially identified cells in the immune system that could be used to trigger myelin repair and theoretically reverse the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS occurs when the immune system incorrectly attacks the protective myelin sheaths covering nerve fibers in the central nervous system. The new study, published last week, suggested a potential strategy to promote regeneration of myelin.

In the new study, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, led by Yvonne Dombrowski, PhD (photo), and partner institutions, investigated the role of T cells in remyelination.

The authors noted that remyelination requires the differentiation of oligodendrocytes from oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. Yet, in MS patients, scientists have found that remyelination does not occur even with an abundance of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells.

Thus, researchers believe the problem must be linked to the process of oligodendrocyte differentiation.

They found that, in mice, a deficit in regulatory T cells was related to a lack of oligodendrocyte differentiation and a lack of remyelination. With adoptive transfer of regulatory T cells, both processes rebounded.

Likewise, in brain slice cultures, regulatory T cells were shown to promote developmental myelination and remyelination.

Finally, regulatory T cells were shown to enable myelination and oligodendrocyte progenitor cell differentiation in vitro, and the CCN3 protein was identified as a regulatory T cell-derived mediator in both processes.

“This knowledge is essential to designing future treatments that tackle neurological diseases, such as MS, in a new way — repairing damage rather than only reducing attacks. In the future, combining these approaches will deliver better outcomes for patients,” said Dombrowski in a press release.

The authors noted that regulatory T cells are typically abbreviated as “Treg” shorthand that could take on new meaning due to the apparent regeneration-stimulating powers of the cells. The issue is personal for one of the study’s other authors, Denise Fitzgerald, PhD, who suffered from transverse myelitis, a condition similar to MS, when she was 21. Fitzgerald said the study is a “landmark” for MS research.

“This is an important step forward in understanding how the brain and spinal cord is naturally repaired and opens up new therapeutic potential for myelin regeneration in patients,” Fitzgerald said. “We continue to work together to advance knowledge and push the boundaries of scientific knowledge for the benefits of patients and society, in a bid to change lives for the better, across the globe.”

Researchers from The University of California, San Francisco, was also involved in another myelin-regeneration study, published last spring, which reported that the antihistamine clemastine stimulated modest improvement in the transmission of electrical signals to the optic nerve. The improvement suggested that the antihistamine triggered remyelination along the nerve pathways.

The new Queen’s University Belfast study was published online March 13 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. It is titled “Regulatory T cells promote myelin regeneration in the central nervous system”

Related Coverage:

Fatigue, Leg Problems May Foreshadow MS Progression

New Study Adds to Case for Stem-Cell Transplants as MS Therapy

Drug May Slow Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

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