In people with multiple sclerosis (MS), skin cells show increased amounts of cellular stress in a manner that is distinct from people without MS and from other neurological diseases, new research shows.
The findings were published in the journal Aging, in the study “Signatures of cell stress and altered bioenergetics in skin fibroblasts from patients with multiple sclerosis.”
Although MS primarily is considered a neurological disease, people with the disease commonly have abnormalities in many of the body’s systems. For instance, previous research has indicated that MS results in specific changes to skeletal muscle, urine, and blood.
These findings suggest that MS is, at least to some extent, a systemic disease. As such, studying cells from MS patients could provide insight into disease processes or possible treatment strategies.
Skin fibroblasts are a type of skin cell that is convenient for such studies because they can be collected easily from patients and cultured in a lab for experimentation. Previous research has indicated that skin fibroblasts are abnormal in other neurological diseases — including Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases — but these cells have not been thoroughly researched in the context of MS.
In the new study, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, collected skin fibroblasts from 30 MS patients: 27 with relapsing-remitting MS, two with secondary progressive MS, and one with clinically isolated syndrome. For comparison, the team collected skin fibroblasts from 10 people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — a neurological disease characterized by the death of motor neurons — and from 24 people without any sign of neurological disease (the control group).
The three groups all included a roughly even split between men and women.
Researchers analyzed the gene expression profiles of fibroblasts — essentially, which genes are “off” (inactive) or “on” (active). This analysis indicated that, compared to both control fibroblasts and ALS fibroblasts, MS fibroblasts had increased levels of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress.
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