Multiple Sclerosis Plaques Are Center of New Research

Article excerpt

Plaques that form around the nerve cells of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) are apparently what disable people with the disease. Partly developed reparative cells within the plaques provide hope for a treatment, reports a physician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

The primary focus of research is on plaques, which are now known to contain certain predictable features consistent with tissue injury, such as loss of nerve insulation, scarring, inflammation, and a loss of the ability of nerves to transmit electrical and chemical information to other nerves.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own tissues. It afflicts about 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people worldwide. Patients experience problems with coordination and eyesight and, in some cases, may lose mental sharpness.

Dr. Elliot Frohman, Professor of Neurology and Ophthalmology and Director of the university's Multiple Sclerosis Program, says:

"Recognizing these different injury cascades has catalyzed novel investigations into strategies for treatment that are aimed at promoting preservation of tissue architecture (neuroprotection) and even potentially "neurorestoration."

In MS, nerve cells lose their insulating fatty covering, called myelin. Myelin comes from nearby cells called oligodendrocytes, which send out projections that wrap around nerve cells. Myelin allows electrical signals to travel quickly and with high fidelity.

The damaged area becomes surrounded by plaques, which contain a wide variety of cells. …