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A new study suggests that a key difference in the brains of male and female patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) may explain why more women than men get the disease.
Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine found higher levels of protein S1PR2 in tests on the brains of female mice and dead women with MS than in male equivalents.
Four times more women than men are currently diagnosed with MS.
Experts said the finding was “really interesting”.
MS affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which causes problems with muscle movement, balance and vision.
Four times more women than men are currently diagnosed with MS
Abnormal immune cells attack nerve cells in the central nervous system in MS patients.
There is currently no cure, although there are treatments that can help in the early stages of the disease.
Researchers in Missouri looked at relapsing remitting MS, where people have distinct attacks of symptoms that then fade away either partially or completely. About 85% of people with MS are diagnosed with this type.
Scientists studied the blood vessels and brains of healthy mice, mice with MS, and mice without the gene for S1PR2, a blood vessel receptor protein, to see how it affected MS severity.
They also looked at the brain tissue samples of 20 people after they had died.
They found high levels of S1PR2 in the areas of the brain typically damaged by MS in both mice and people.
The activity of the gene coding for S1PR2 was positively correlated with the severity of the disease in mice, the study said.
Scientists said S1PR2 could work by helping to make the blood-brain barrier, in charge of stopping potentially harmful substances from entering the brain and spinal fluid, more permeable.
A more permeable barrier could let attacking cells, which cause MS, into the central nervous system, the study said.
Prof. Robyn Klein, of the Washington University School of Medicine, said: “We were very excited to find the molecule, as we wanted to find a target for treatment that didn’t involve targeting the immune cells.
“This link [between MS and S1PR2] is completely new – it has never been found before.”
She said she did not know why the levels of S1PR2 were higher in women with MS, adding she had found oestrogen had “no acute role”.
Prof. Robyn Klein would be looking at taking her findings to clinical trials in the “next few years”.
The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
According to US researchers, food poisoning bacterium Clostridium perfringens may be implicated in Multiple sclerosis (MS).
Lab tests in mice by the team from Weill Cornell Medical College revealed a toxin made by a rare strain of Clostridium perfringens caused MS-like damage in the brain.
An earlier work by the same team, published in PLoS ONE, identified the toxin-producing strain of C. perfringens in a young woman with MS.
But experts urge caution, saying more work is needed to explore the link.
Food poisoning bacterium Clostridium perfringens may be implicated in Multiple sclerosis
No-one knows the exact cause of MS, but it is likely that a mixture of genetic and environmental factors play a role.
Clostridium perfringens, found in soil and contaminated undercooked meat, comes in different strains.
Most cases of human infection occur as food poisoning – diarrhoea and stomach cramps that usually resolve within a day or so. More rarely, the bacterium can cause gas gangrene.
A particular strain of C. perfringens, Type B, which the Weill team says it identified in a human for the first time, makes a toxin that can travel through blood to the brain.
In their lab studies on rodents the researchers found that the toxin, called epsilon, crossed the blood-brain barrier and killed myelin-producing cells – the typical damage seen in MS.
Lead investigator Jennifer Linden said the findings are important because if it can be confirmed that epsilon toxin is a trigger of MS, a vaccine or antibody against the toxin might be able to halt or prevent this debilitating disease.
Jennifer Linden presented the group’s latest findings at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
A simple eye test may offer a fast and easy way to monitor patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), medical experts say in the journal Neurology.
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a scan that measures the thickness of the lining at the back of the eye – the retina.
It takes a few minutes per eye and can be performed in a doctor’s surgery.
In a trial involving 164 people with MS, those with thinning of their retina had earlier and more active MS.
The team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine say larger trials with a long follow up are needed to judge how useful the test might be in everyday practice.
The latest study tracked the patients’ disease progression over a two-year period.
Multiple sclerosis is an illness that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. In MS, the protective sheath or layer around nerves, called myelin, comes under attack which, in turn, leaves the nerves open to damaged.
Optical Coherence Tomography test may offer a fast and easy way to monitor patients with multiple sclerosis
There are different types of MS – most people with the condition have the relapsing remitting type where the symptoms come and go over days, weeks or months.
Usually after a decade or so, half of patients with this type of MS will develop secondary progressive disease where the symptoms get gradually worse and there are no or very few periods of remission.
Another type of MS is primary progressive disease where symptoms get worse from the outset.
There is no cure but treatments can help slow disease progression.
It can be difficult for doctors to monitor MS because it has a varied course and can be unpredictable.
Brain scans can reveal inflammation and scarring, but it is not clear how early these changes might occur in the disease and whether they accurately reflect ongoing damage.
Scientists have been looking for additional ways to track MS, and believe OCT may be a contender.
OCT measures the thickness of nerve fibres housed in the retina at the back of the eye.
Unlike nerve cells in the rest of the brain which are covered with protective myelin, the nerve cells in the retina are bare with no myelin coat.
Experts suspect that this means the nerves here will show the earliest signs of MS damage.
The study at Johns Hopkins found that people with MS relapses had much faster thinning of their retina than people with MS who had no relapses. So too did those whose level of disability worsened.
Similarly, people with MS who had inflammatory lesions that were visible on brain scans also had faster retinal thinning than those without visible brain lesions.
Study author Dr. Peter Calabresi said OCT may show how fast MS is progressing.
“As more therapies are developed to slow the progression of MS, testing retinal thinning in the eyes may be helpful in evaluating how effective those therapies are,” he added.
In an accompanying editorial in the same medical journal that the research is published in, MS experts Drs Robert Bermel and Matilde Inglese say OCT “holds promise” as an MS test.
Leukemia drug alemtuzumab appears to be the “most effective” treatment for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), say British researchers.
During MS the body’s immune system turns on its own nerves causing debilitating muscle problems.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge say a cancer drug, which wipes out and resets the immune system, has better results than other options.
However, there is concern that a drugs company is about to increase the cost of the drug as a result.
Around 100,000 people in the UK have multiple sclerosis. When the condition is diagnosed most will have a form of the disease know as relapsing-remitting MS, in which the symptoms can almost disappear for a time, before suddenly returning.
The researchers tested a leukaemia drug, alemtuzumab, which had shown benefits for MS in small studies.
In leukaemia, a blood cancer, it controls the excess production of white blood cells. In MS patients, the dose eliminates the immune cells entirely, forcing a new immune system to be built from scratch which should not attack the nerves.
Two trials, published in the Lancet medical journal, compared the effectiveness of alemtuzumab with a first-choice drug, interferon beta-1a.
One compared the effectiveness in patients given the drug after being diagnosed, the other looked at patients given the drug after other treatments had failed.
Both showed the drug was around 50% more effective at preventing relapses and patients had less disability at the end of the study than when they started.
Leukemia drug alemtuzumab appears to be the “most effective” treatment for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis
Dr. Alasdair Coles, from the University of Cambridge, said: “Although other MS drugs have emerged over the last year, which is certainly good news for patients, none has shown superior effects on disability when compared to interferon except alemtuzumab.
“No other treatment has led to improvements in disability.”
He said: “It is certainly the most effective MS drug, based on these clinical trials, but this is definitely not a cure.”
However, he warned there were side-effects such as the risk of infection from a depleted immune system which meant the drug would not be suitable for everyone.
Dr. Alasdair Coles said he thought the drug would be most useful for patients for whom standard treatment had failed and in a “minority” of patients as a first-choice drug.
Eventually relapsing-remitting MS can become progressive MS as the good spells become shorter and less frequent. The drug will have no effect on this form of the disease.
The drug has been withdrawn from the market in Europe and the US as the manufacturer, Genzyme, intends to have it licensed as a treatment for MS.
A Lancet editorial warns: “There is concern that with a licence for multiple sclerosis, the cost of alemtuzumab could rise and might become too expensive for many patients and health systems.
“Finding promising treatments such as alemtuzumab is important. But so is keeping alemtuzumab accessible and affordable.”
Dr. Doug Brown, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, said: “These results are great news for people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
“Alemtuzumab has been found to be an effective treatment for people with MS – but it’s only useful to them if it’s available on the NHS.
“We urge Genzyme to price the treatment responsibly so that if it’s licensed, it’s deemed cost-effective on the NHS.”
Genzyme said it would not come up with a price for the drug “until it is approved by regulatory authorities” and that it would “engage constructively” with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which evaluates the cost-effectiveness of drugs for use in the NHS.
Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have revealed that their son Jack was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The TV and music star family said Jack was diagnosed from tests taken when he lost 60% vision in his right eye earlier this year.
Jack Osbourne, 26, told Hello! that after first feeling angry and upset he has now taken an attitude of “adapt and overcome”.
MS is an incurable neurological condition that damages the nerves and affects the transfer of messages around the body.
MS affects the brain and the nervous system and destroys myelin sheath layers between the nerves in the brain and spinal cord which stops impulses being carried around the body.
It can cause blindness, slurred speech, muscle weakness and a loss of coordination.
There is no known cause or cure for MS, which is three times more common in men than in women.
Between 2 and 5% of cases are discovered in children under 16.
Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have revealed that their son Jack was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
Jack Osbourne said he had chosen to speak out in order to raise awareness of the condition. He added that the support of his fiancée Lisa Stelly was helping him to stay positive.
MS can have a wide range of symptoms, including tiredness, temporary blindness, loss of co-ordination and speech difficulties.
It is unpredictable and affects everyone differently. One in five sufferers has a benign form with mild attacks and no permanent disability, while another 15% have a progressive disease that steadily worsens.
Jack Osbourne was diagnosed with the condition three weeks after the birth of daughter Pearl, now two months old.
“The timing was so bad,” he said.
“I’d just had a baby, work was going great – I kept thinking: <<Why now?>>”
Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne said they were still trying to come to terms with their son’s condition.
Former X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne said she had been asking herself if she was to blame.
“I kept thinking: <<What did I do wrong, what did I eat or drink when I was pregnant?>> I feel like it’s somehow my fault.”
Former Black Sabbath star Ozzy Osbourne said: “If it was me, you’d think: <<Ozzy had a reputation and it caught up with him>>, but Jack is such a good guy.”
Jack Osbourne – known as an extreme sports enthusiast – will use a combination of daily drug treatments, holistic therapies and lifestyle changes.
The family was the subject of a worldwide hit reality TV show, The Osbournes, which originally aired on MTV between 2002 and 2005.
The programme, also featuring the Osbournes’ daughter Kelly, won an Emmy award in 2002.