Neurotransmitter defect may trigger autoimmune disease

Oct 06, 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: New treatment could 'protect against any strain of the flu'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

GUMBOS technology promises new drugs, electronic devices

Apr 10, 2013

Mention a breakthrough involving "gumbo" technology in this city, and people think of a new twist on The Local Dish, the stew that's the quintessence of southern Louisiana cooking. But scientific presentations at a meeting ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

More news stories

Sensors may keep hospitalized patients from falling

(Medical Xpress)—To keep hospitalized patients safer, University of Arizona researchers are working on new technology that involves a small, wearable sensor that measures a patient's activity, heart rate, ...

Fresh hope for preventing pneumonia in the elderly

There are calls for the frail and elderly not be be overlooked for vaccines against pneumonia this winter, with UNSW research challenging conventional wisdom on immunisation effectiveness in older patients.

Phase transiting to a new quantum universe

(Phys.org) —Recent insight and discovery of a new class of quantum transition opens the way for a whole new subfield of materials physics and quantum technologies.

Imaging turns a corner

(Phys.org) —Scientists have developed a new microscope which enables a dramatically improved view of biological cells.

NASA image: Volcanoes in Guatemala

This photo of volcanoes in Guatemala was taken from NASA's C-20A aircraft during a four-week Earth science radar imaging mission deployment over Central and South America. The conical volcano in the center ...