The study, “Biochemically altered myelin triggers autoimmune demyelination,” was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
An immune attack against myelin is a central event in MS and leads to inflammation. However, the cause of this autoimmune reaction is still unknown.
The conventional view is that MS starts from the “outside in,” referring to the fact that immune cells enter the brain and cause myelin damage. However, other studies support the theory that subtle alterations in myelin within the brain precede inflammatory reactions.
“In the field, the controversy about what starts MS has been brewing for more than a decade. In medical school, I was taught years ago that the immune attack initiates the disease. End of story,” Peter Stys, MD, the study’s senior author, said in a press release. Stys is a professor of neurology at UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.
“However, our findings show there may be something happening deeper and earlier that damages the myelin and then later triggers the immune attacks,” he said.
To test their view on what drives MS, scientists used a mouse model called cuprizone autoimmune encephalitis, which induces a mild myelin injury, involving biochemical changes — this model is believed to mimic the earliest stages of the disease.
They coupled administration of cuprizone, a compound that reacts with copper, with immune stimulation and found that in these animals the initial slight myelin damage was followed by lesions involving inflammatory demyelination, or loss of myelin.
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