New clue into how brain stem cells develop into cells which repair damaged tissue

Jul 01, 2009

The joint research, funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the UK MS Society as well as the National Institutes of Health and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was conducted by scientists at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and University of Cambridge and was published today in the journal Genes and Development.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease which is caused by the body's immune system attacking nerve fibres and their protective insulation, the myelin sheath, in the . This damage prevents the nerves from 'firing' properly, and then leads to their destruction, resulting in physical and intellectual disabilities.

It is currently thought that two components determine clinical outcomes in MS. First, it is important to stop ongoing damage (mainly achieved by controlling inflammation in the central nervous system). The second is to repair the damage that has occurred to the protective myelin sheaths surrounding the nerve fibres (this involves a regenerative process called remyelination in which new myelin sheaths are restored to nerve fibres).

While there exist several effective treatments to reduce inflammatory damage, no treatments are available to augment remyelination to repair the damage to . Critical to the development of such repair therapies is to understand how the brain's own can replace the myelin forming cells (oligodendrocytes) lost in the disease. During early stages of the disease the brains own stem cells are surprisingly good at repairing damage in MS. However, for reasons that until now have not been well explained, they become less efficient as the disease progresses.

In this study the researchers have identified the Wnt pathway, which plays an active role in the maintenance and proliferation of stem cells, as a crucial determinant of whether oligodendrocytes can efficiently make myelin. Their studies demonstrate that if the Wnt pathway is abnormally active, then the process is inhibited. This opens up the exciting possibility that the repair can be enhanced in MS patients by drugs that block the Wnt pathway.

Professor Robin Franklin from the University of Cambridge, a co-senior author of the study, explained the significance of their findings: "The pathway we identified plays a critical role in whether repair to the damaged cells will or will not occur. Interestingly, mutations in this particular pathway are also involved in several cancers. In this regard, drugs that inhibit this pathway from signaling have been sought which might suppress tumour growth. These same drugs may also find a role in promoting repair in MS."

Lead author of the study, Stephen Fancy, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of co-senior author David Rowitch, MD, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at the University of California, San Francisco, said: "We believe we have made a significant step forward in understanding why repair might fail in neurological diseases such as MS by identifying a pathway which inhibits the myelin repair process," said the

MS Society Director of Research, Jayne Spink, said: "We are delighted with the outcome of this outstanding research, which gives us greater knowledge of the mechanics of MS. This works opens up new avenues of research and lends itself to more study. Being able to uncover the secrets behind the damage caused in MS will take us forward in our understanding of this debilitating condition."

"Our studies work have implications for other diseases," said UCSF's Rowitch. "In a condition called periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), which can lead to cerebral palsy in extremely premature infants, recent studies show a similar inability of oligodendrocytes to perform their important repair function. In respect to failed myelin repair, we see a parallel between the chronic demyelinated plaques of and the lesions of PVL."

Source: University of Cambridge (news : web)

Explore further: Researcher discovers new method for creating bone tissue and cartilage tissue

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

One size does not fit all: A new look at therapies

May 26, 2009

Statins, a commonly prescribed class of drugs used by millions worldwide to effectively lower blood cholesterol levels, may actually have a negative impact in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients treated with high daily dosages.

Cause of nerve fiber damage in multiple sclerosis identified

Oct 16, 2006

Researchers have identified how the body's own immune system contributes to the nerve fiber damage caused by multiple sclerosis, a finding that can potentially aid earlier diagnosis and improved treatment for this chronic ...

Inhibiting blood to save the brain

Mar 22, 2007

A fibrous protein called fibrinogen, found in circulating blood and important in blood clotting, can promote multiple sclerosis (MS) when it leaks from the blood into the brain, triggering inflammation that leads to MS-related ...

Human ES cells progress slowly in myelin's direction

Apr 09, 2009

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin, USA, report in the journal Development the successful generation from human embryonic stem cells of a type of cell that can make myelin, a finding that opens up new possibilities for bo ...

New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers

Oct 22, 2008

A drug which was developed in Cambridge and initially designed to treat a form of leukaemia has also proven effective against combating the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).

Recommended for you

Scientists image a beating heart in 3D (w/ Video)

1 hour ago

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden report how they managed to capture detailed three-dimensional images of cardiac dynamics in zebrafish. The novel approach: ...

New device to monitor lung function in space

1 hour ago

A new method of collecting blood from the ear, currently part of an interactive exhibition at the Science Museum, could be used to monitor lung function in space. Less invasive, faster and more accurate than current methods, ...

Primate research center plays key role in HIV study in Nature

1 hour ago

In a study reported in Nature this month, Yerkes National Primate Research Center researchers were key in determining that treating SIV-infected rhesus macaques with type 1 interferon, a protein known to trigger antiviral respon ...

Three-people IVF debate process on the move in UK

3 hours ago

Takes two to make a child, correct? No. maybe. The use of sperm and eggs from three people to create babies moved a step closer in the UK, with Tuesday's events. What kind of egg-sperm distribution are we talking about? The ...

User comments : 0