Study: Molecule may slow progression of MS

November 15, 2019
In a recent animal study, researchers identified a molecule named ALCAM that, once blocked, delays the progression of the disease. Their results could lead to the development of a new generation of therapies to treat this autoimmune disease.

Under normal conditions, the blood-brain barrier protects our brain from exposure to harmful elements. However, in people with MS, this barrier is permeable. A large number of lymphocytes manage to migrate into the brain and deteriorate its tissues by destruction of the myelin sheath, which protects the neurons and enables the transmission of nerve impulses.

In the study, researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre showed for the first time that a molecule called ALCAM (activated leukocyte cell adhesion molecule), expressed by B cells, controls their entry into the brain via blood vessels. It allows them to migrate to the other side of the blood-brain barrier in mice and humans. By blocking this molecule in mice, they were able to reduce the flow of B cells into their brains and, as a result, slow the progression of the disease.

The molecule ALCAM is expressed at higher levels on the B cells of people with MS. Results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans and may be years away from being a marketable treatment. However, researchers said that by specifically targeting this molecule, they will now be able to explore other therapeutic avenues for the treatment of this disease.

B cells contribute to the progressive phase of MS. Certain medications, commonly known as anti-B-cell drugs, reduce its progression and the resulting disability.

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

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