Ground-breaking MS discovery could lead to better treatment

SASKATOON – A new discovery in multiple sclerosis research, that nerve cells in the brains of MS patients contain stress granules that appear to contribute to nerve cell death, could lead to improved treatment of the disease.

The discovery was made by a research team led by Dr. Michael Levin, Saskatchewan Chair in Multiple Sclerosis Clinical Research at the University of Saskatchewan’s (U of S) College of Medicine, who made the announcement at the 2018 International Society of Neuroimmunology Meeting in Brisbane, Australia.

“In healthy people, stress granules protect nerve cells. The discovery of abnormal stress granules in nerve cells of an MS patient unveils a new mechanism of disease, which may lead to new treatments for this devastating disease that strikes people early in their life and career,” said Levin.

Stress granules were previously found to lead to nerve cell death or damage in other neurologic diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and some types of dementia, but this is the first time they have been implicated in association with MS. MS is the most common disease of the nervous system in young adults, and is believed to be autoimmune, meaning the body’s own immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. This creates permanent damage that results in symptoms such as visual loss, paralysis, pain and sexual dysfunction. 
“While the cause of these abnormal stress granules in people with MS is not entirely clear, we do know it is related to the body’s immune response and to a molecule called interferon-gamma, in particular. This discovery could pave the way for research into new drugs that could break down these abnormal stress granules and potentially slow or reverse the course of MS,” Levin said. 
Levin and a team of four other U of S scientists—Hannah Salapa, a PhD student in anatomy and cell biology; Chloe Johnson, a medical student at the U of S; Catherine Hutchinson, a research technician for Dr. Levin; and Bogdan Popescu, a professor in anatomy and cell biology—conducted the experiments, and their resulting paper was published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology under the title Dysfunctional RNA binding proteins and stress granules in multiple sclerosis. The next steps in their research will be to look for stress granules in animal models of MS, and test drugs to disassemble them. 

The work was supported by the Office of the Saskatchewan Multiple Sclerosis Clinical Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon City Hospital Foundation, and Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.


To arrange an interview with Dr. Michael Levin, please contact:

Kate Blau, Communications Specialist, College of Medicine
kate.blau@usask.ca| 306-966-6059
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