Multiple sclerosis: How blocking central T cells may help treat MS

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Scientists are honing in on T cells in the central nervous system in their multiple sclerosis research. Claret Castell/Stocksy
  • Researchers are reporting they have found a potential way to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis.
  • They said they did so in mouse models and lab studies on human tissue by deleting a receptor in specific types of T cells.
  • They said the process stopped these T cells from entering the central nervous system while allowing other more beneficial T cells to enter.
  • Experts say the study is promising, but more research needs to be done.

It might be possible to stop or slow the autoimmune progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) by deleting a receptor in the central nervous system, according to a study published today in the journal Science Immunology.

Using mouse models, researchers reported that deleting a receptor that selectively targets a specific type of T cells stopped them from entering the central nervous system while allowing other T cells to penetrate and protect the body from pathogens.

T cells are a type of white blood cells found in the immune system and work to fight infections, such as viruses, bacterial infections, fungi, and parasites.

In the past, scientists prevented the T cells from entering the central nervous system. However, this process also lowered immunity and left the patient open to infections.

In this study, the researchers said they found a way to prevent specific T cells from entering. They did this by deleting the receptor needed for cell migration. By doing so, they said they stopped autoimmune activity.

“The receptors are attached to the T-cells (TH17 cells) and can help the cell travel into the [central nervous system],” said Dr. Cole Harrington, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center who was not involved in the study. “When the scientists remove or make the receptor (integrin a3) inactive, the cell cannot enter the [central nervous system].”

“After reading the study, I do believe this is something that can work to help people with MS,” Harrington told Medical News Today. “This is very early in the process, but I found this very interesting,” they continued.

After examining the mouse models that consisted of mice with a MS-like disease called Health">experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, researchers then completed in-vitro studies in laboratories and reported they could block the receptor and impair cell migration in human cells.

They believe this will help develop therapies for MS and improve outcomes for people with the condition.

In-vitro studies involve taking cells outside of their normal environment – in this case, the body. Typically, these studies are completed in test tubes, Petri dishes, flasks, and microtiter plates and are often referred to as test-tube experiments.

“The next step is to assess the safety of using integrin a 3 blockade as a therapeutic strategy in preclinical studies,” said Maria Ciofani, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Immunobiology in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the Center for Advanced Genomic Technologies at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina​.

“Our work used gene deletion to eliminate the gene for integrin a3 (Itga3) selectively (the receptor) in T cells,” Ciofani told Medical News Today. “Therapeutic blocking of integrins is typically accomplished using antibodies that bind them and prevent them from interacting with other proteins and carrying out their functions. Such antibodies are not available for blocking integrin a3, and our next step would be to generate these antibodies, administer them to mice in a model of MS, evaluate their efficacy in controlling MS clinical symptoms, and assess for potential side effects.”

If the process continues to move forward, it would still be quite a while before people with MS could see the benefits, she noted.

“The [Food and Drug Administration] estimates that it takes approximately eight and a half years to study and test a new drug before it can be approved for the general public,” Ciofani said.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The exact cause of MS is not yet understood. However, people with a family history of MS might have an increased risk of developing the disease. It is a chronic, lifelong disease without a cure.

Around 1 million people in the United States live with MS, according to the National MS Society.

Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 20 and 50, although they can start outside of that window. Around 74% of people with MS are women. It is more common in white people of northern European descent but does occur in most ethnic groups.

Some risk factors for multiple sclerosis
Low vitamin D levels
Previous infection with the Epstein-Barr virus

Symptoms occur as a result of recurrent attacks of inflammation in the central nervous system, according to a report published in Clinical Medicine & Research.

According to the WHO, symptoms include:

  • vision problems
  • difficulty walking or balance problems
  • brain fog
  • numbness or weakness, especially in the arms and legs
  • muscle stiffness
  • depression
  • problems with sexual function or urination
  • fatigue

There are treatments to reduce symptoms and prevent relapses.

Medical professionals base their treatment recommendations on the clinical subtype of MS, the stage of the disease and the severity of symptoms meant to reduce the frequency and severity of relapses, slow disease progression, and improve quality of life.

According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, disease-modifying medications used include:

  • First-line injectable therapies (monoclonal antibodies), including natalizumab, rituximab, and ocrelizumab
  • Oral medications, including fingolimod, teriflunomide, and dimethyl fumarate
  • Older injectable therapies: interferons and glatiramer acetate
  • Second-line therapies (immunosuppressants), including azathioprine, methotrexate, and cyclophosphamide.

Sometimes, individuals with MS use additional medications to manage symptoms. These include:

  • Medications for bladder dysfunction such as doxazosin and tamsulosin
  • Medication for fatigue in people with MS, including amphetamines and methylphenidate
  • Low doses of antiseizure medications for attacks of motor or sensory phenoma, including carbamazepine and valproic acid
  • Medications for spasticity, including baclofen and tizanidine

Medications are just one part of treatment. Some people may need speech, physical, or occupational therapy and exercise plans to improve functioning.

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