A new tiny sensor is able to detect antibodies against myelin, the protective coating of nerve cell axons whose destruction is a hallmark of multiple sclerosis (MS), potentially allowing for a diagnosis in early disease stages, researchers report.
It also offers the possibility of distinguishing multiple sclerosis from neuromyelitis optica, a rare autoimmune inflammatory condition that shares symptoms with MS.
Their study, “Nanoimmunosensor based on atomic force spectroscopy to detect anti-myelin basic protein related to early-stage multiple sclerosis,” was published in the journal Ultramicroscopy.
The immune system of MS patients recognizes myelin as foreign, launching damaging attacks on myelin in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and disrupting nerve cell communications via the transmission of electrical impulses.
Demyelinating diseases like MS are hard to confirm, as the diagnosis often relies on reported symptoms and MRI scans to detect brain lesions.
A team led by researchers at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), in Brazil, developed a nanosensor that is able to detect myelin-targeting antibodies in small amounts of cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF. This fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and is usually collected through a spinal tap.
To develop this sensor, the researchers adapted a technology called an atomic force microscopy (AFM; also called atomic force spectroscopy ) that was originally used to detect herbicides, heavy metals, and other toxic compounds. AFM is a very sensitive technique that is able to measure interaction between molecules.
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