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Gray matter under attack in multiple sclerosis
Date:4/30/2009

Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks the body's own material just as aggressively as it would attack a foreign pathogen. Multiple sclerosis, MS for short, is just one such autoimmune disease, and is one of the most common neurological diseases in the 20 to 30 years age group. The disease can have very severe consequences for those afflicted, since the body's defenses attack the central nervous system. It has long been assumed that myelin is the most important target for the misdirected immune response. This white, fat-rich protective layer of specialized cells enshrouds the long extensions of neurons. However, the central nervous systems of MS patients also exhibit damage in the gray matter, where the nerve cell bodies are located. How the patient's disability develops depends greatly on the damage of the gray matter. An international group headed by medical scientist Professor Edgar Meinl of LMU Munich has now discovered a possible connection: The protein Contactin-2 is produced both in the myelin sheathing and by neurons in the gray matter and is attacked by misdirected immune factors. "Our results suggest that these processes also play a role in MS patients," says Meinl. "It could even be that proteins existing both in myelin and in the gray matter are in fact the critical points of attack."

Multiple sclerosis often advances in phases, where nerve fibers are successively and irreversibly destroyed by attacks from certain immune cells so-called T-lymphocytes. The axons that make up nerve fibers are sheathed in myelin. This protective layer consists of individual cells that wrap around the long extensions of the neurons to insulate them and to allow signals to propagate all the way along the nerve cells. MS first causes in an irrecoverable loss of myelin, and then ultimately to the demise of the neurons thus exposed.

"It is the irreversible destruction of axons in particular that causes the lasting disabili
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Contact: Luise Dirscherl
dirscherl@lmu.de
089-218-02706
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen
Source:Eurekalert

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