Neurotransmitter defect may trigger autoimmune disease

October 6, 2008

A potentially blinding neurological disorder, often confused with multiple sclerosis (MS), has now become a little less mysterious. A new study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, may have uncovered the cause of Devic's disease. Their new study, which will appear online on October 6th in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, could result in new treatment options for this devastating disease.

Devic's disease, also known as neuromyelitis optica (NMO), results in MS-like demyelinating lesions along the optic nerves and spine. Affected individuals often experience rapid visual loss, paralysis, and loss of leg, bladder, and bowel sensation. Some lose their sight permanently. Unlike MS, Devic's disease can be diagnosed by the presence of a specific self-attacking immune protein—an autoantibody referred to as NMO-IgG—in the blood. Until now, however, clinicians didn't know how that protein damaged nerves and contributed to disease symptoms.

The Mayo team, lead by Dr. Vanda Lennon, now show that NMO-IgG sets off a chain of events that leads to a toxic build-up of a neurotransmitter called glutamate. NMO-IgG binds to a protein that normally sops up excess glutamate from the space between brain cells. When NMO-IgG is around, this sponge-like action is blocked, allowing glutamate to accumulate. And too much glutamate can kill the cells that produce myelin—the protein that coats and protects neurons. The authors suggest that glutamate-induced damage to nerve cells and their insulating myelin coats might account for the neurological symptoms associated with Devic's disease.

If the groups' results—generated using nerve cell cultures—are confirmed in vivo, drug development could be very straightforward. Therapeutic trials for glutamate blockers, created to treat other neurodegenerative diseases like Lou Gehrig's disease (or ALS), are already underway.

Source: Rockefeller University Press

Explore further: Cell's split personality is a major discovery into neurological diseases

Related Stories

Hitting cell hot spot could help thwart Parkinson's disease

July 8, 2009

The latest work to 'turn off the taps' in the brain and stop a chemical being released in excess amounts - which can lead to Parkinson's Disease - will be presented at The British Pharmacological Society's Summer Meeting ...

Star-shaped cells in the brain aid with learning

September 7, 2009

( -- Every movement and every thought requires the passing of specific information between networks of nerve cells. To improve a skill or to learn something new entails more efficient or a greater number of cell ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.