WEDNESDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified an antibody found in the blood of about half of patients with multiple sclerosis that is not found in people without the autoimmune disease.
The implications of the antibody's presence aren't fully understood. But in rodents, the antibody binds to and damages brain cells that are known to be important to neurological function, according to the study.
Although the research is preliminary, experts say the findings may open the door for a blood test that could more easily diagnosis multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. The results also suggest a new target for MS treatments that would prevent the antibody from binding to brain cells.
"We have known for a long time that antibodies were involved in the destruction of nervous system tissue in MS, but we have not had a good handle on what the target was for these antibodies," said Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, who was not involved in the study. "What this research has identified is what might be a potential trigger or target in MS."
The study is published in the July 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
In multiple sclerosis, the body's own immune system attacks myelin, the substance that insulates nerve fibers of the central nervous system. The damage disrupts nerve signals traveling to and from the brain, which can lead to numbness, movement difficulties, blurred vision, fatigue and eventually cognitive problems.
What isn't known, however, is precisely which components of the immune system go awry, which cell proteins the immune system specifically targets and to what extent this varies from patient to patient.
In this study, researchers screened the blood serum of two sets of patients with MS and compared it to the serum of people without MS. About 47 percent of the
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