Spinal Cord Protein Possible Drug Target for Multiple Sclerosis

Researchers believe they can target a receptor protein in the spinal cord to slow nerve damage and paralysis caused by multiple sclerosis.

A spinal cord change has been discovered and could be a target for new multiple sclerosis (MS) medications, according to findings published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

Researchers from the Centre for Additional and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Ontario examined a protein receptor for the glutamate neurotransmitter in order to determine its effects on spinal cord tissue. This receptor protein is often found in higher levels in spinal cord tissues of human MS patients, as well as mice models of MS, called experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE).

The researchers developed techniques to create a new peptide to try and disrupt the change in spinal cord tissue in EAE mice. The mice were injected with peptides daily for from day 10 until day 30 after immunization. The effects of the peptides were evaluated at day 17 or day 30 for signs of paralysis.

Compared to non EAE mice, motor function was better after the introduction of the peptide. The peptide also influenced the nerve damage often associated with MS in the mice: it reduced neuron death and rescued the myelin by increasing the survival of cells that produce myelin.

Furthermore, the new peptide didn’t seem to limit the body’s ability to have a successful immune system response directly, and did not inhibit physiologically essential neuron transmission in the brain, which is sometimes a side effect for drugs that target the glutamate system.

The change in spinal cord was previously unknown, but the research team believes it could lead to the development of new drugs to treat MS.

“We found that our peptide disrupted this linkage, and lead to major improvements in neurological funding,” explained study leader Fang Liu in a press release, referring to the nerve damage created by the glutamate receptor protein. “Our priority now would be to extend this research and determine how this discovery can be translated into treatment for patients.”