Altered levels of molecules important for cell regulation — called microRNAs — have been found in specific immune cells isolated from the blood of people with multiple sclerosis (MS), a study reveals.
These immune cells, called monocytes, transform into macrophage cells, which is a cell type involved in MS-related tissue damage. The study suggests that the pattern of microRNAs in monocytes may be a new MS biomarker to help monitor disease progression.
The study, “Immune and central nervous system-related miRNAs expression profiling in monocytes of multiple sclerosis patients,” was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
MS is caused by the immune system attacking the protective coating around nerve cells, called myelin, leading to inflammation and further damage. Immune cells known as macrophages are commonly found in close proximity to the areas of myelin damage (lesions) and are involved in MS-related tissue damage.
Macrophage cells are important in defending against bacteria and viruses, and thus have a pro-inflammatory role. But macrophages also can have the opposite function — by regulating the end of inflammation (anti-inflammatory role) and the repair of damaged tissues.
These cells start out as a blood cell type called monocyte and transform into macrophages as they move into the tissue to fight infections or initiate repair. Macrophages that are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory are created by a process known as macrophage polarization.
A variety of biomarkers are currently used to identify the state of macrophage polarization.
Recently, research on potential MS biomarkers has focused on molecules that can be isolated from blood and other bodily fluids called microRNAs (miRNAs) — short stretches of genetic material that regulate gene activity and an increase or decrease in the production of proteins within a cell.
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