In addition, only three of the nearly 330 people with other neurological diseases had high levels of KIR4.1, indicating that the antibody researchers are homing in on is specific to MS and not more general neurological problems.
Researchers then injected KIR4.1 antibodies into the brains of rodents and found the antibody damaged the brain tissue and altered immune response in the region. It should be noted, however, that results found in animals often do not translate to humans.
"If this is truly the target of the immune response, this could pave the way to other therapies for MS," said senior study author Dr. Bernhard Hemmer, professor of neurology at Technische Universitat in Munich.
Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant, professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center, called the results exciting yet preliminary.
Prior research has found "lots of changes in the immune response that we think relates to the disease," she said. But pinpointing specific antibodies has been difficult, with some studies showing relevance but others failing to repeat the finding.
"In this case, researchers had a large number of participants," she said. "Nearly half of them had the antibody, and the protein in the brain identified as a target for this antibody is known to be important for nerve functioning."
"The antibodies are like Velcro. They bind to proteins or antigens in different tissues," she added. "Many antibodies don't bind in the brain, so they are unlikely to have relevance in MS. But this antibody did."
Still, Hemmer said, not everyone with MS had high levels of KIR4.1 antibodies, meaning there are almost certainly other aspects of the immune system involved.
And MS can vary significantly from person to person. Future research should seek to dete
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