In the brains of people with advanced multiple sclerosis (MS), memory immune cells reside in the brain tissue rather than entering through the bloodstream, a new study suggests.
The study, “Tissue-resident memory T cells invade the brain parenchyma in multiple sclerosis white matter lesions,” was published in the journal Brain.
MS is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking brain tissue. Determining exactly what characterizes this immune attack, and how it changes at different disease states, is an ongoing area of investigation.
One type of immune cell that seems important in this process is T-cells. These cells can be divided into many subtypes based on their behavior and the specific protein markers they express, but a common feature is that they are able to recognize specific molecular patterns (for example a viral protein), after which the cells will become activated — that is, they will divide and mount an inflammatory response.
One T-cell subtype is memory T-cell. Although it is not exactly clear how these cells are generated, their function is well-defined. Memory T-cells have immunological “memory,” meaning that they are able to mount a faster, more effective immune response against threats that have been encountered before. This type of immunological memory is the same principle that makes vaccines work.
A noteworthy feature of memory T-cells is that, unlike other T-cell subtypes, memory T-cells generally don’t circulate throughout the body in the bloodstream. Instead, they usually reside within tissues where they are likely to encounter a threat.
In the new study, researchers in The Netherlands analyzed T-cells in donated brains of people with advanced MS (examined at the Netherlands Brain Bank) in order to better understand the inflammatory activity associated with the disease.
“Our previous studies indicated that there is still a significant amount of inflammatory activity in the brain also at later stages of MS. This is remarkable,” Nina Fransen, the study’s lead author, said in a press release.
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