*above photograph: (at top) A T lymphocyte is activated after contact with a phagocytic cell. Each picture shows a different time-point in a video recording of the interaction between the two cells. (bottom) An autoreactive T lymphocyte, here in contact with a microglia cell, is activated deep within inflamed nervous tissue.
Department of Neuroimmunology and the Institute for Multiple Sclerosis Research (IMSF) scientists at the University Medical Center Göttingen found a way to make it possible to see exactly where self-destructive brain inflammation is produced.
This incredible technique can allow researchers to track formerly unexplained occurrences in those with multiple sclerosis (MS) and “observe autoimmunological processes in living tissue”; making it possible to see when and where T lymphocytes start to destroy the myelin sheath.
“I’ve spent a lot of time sharing information over the years about myelin repair, actually donated to the Myelin Repair Foundation,” said Abbie Kanter of Lima. “For me it felt like the damage to the myelin was pretty much the reason why we have the problems we do so…why not send my money there?”
Prof. Alexander Flügel, M.D., Professor of Neuroimmunology, headed the research team that looked at three questions regarding MS:
- Exactly which nervous system cells render this fatal aid? (Which cells “spark” the T lymphocytes to attack)
- Where exactly in brain tissue does the activation takes place?
- In which phase of brain tissue inflammation is the recognition process significance to the disease manifestation?
They were able to look directly at living nervous systems by inserting differently colored fluorescent proteins into T cells, cells that were already diseased, and found different patterns of when the T lymphocytes were in a resting state, from the patterns of when they met up with a “helper”.
Dr. Dimitri Lodygin explained the difference, “These fluorescent signals form a specific dispersal pattern when a T lymphocyte is in its non-activated, internally resting state. But as soon as a T lymphocyte meets a helper and is activated by recognizing the brain substance offered to it, the fluorescent signals change their dispersal pattern in a clearly recognizable way.”
They used a special microscopy that permitted the scientists to film the display in real time and found T lymphocytes met the helpers as soon as they left the bloodstream and that the helpers are macrophages. Macrophages guard the nervous tissue from potentially harmful intruders except here it appeared to “gather up brain proteins and to offer them to the pathogenic T lymphocytes”.
The scientists were also able to block the activation of the T lymphocytes and believe this is going to be huge for therapies we could someday see, but activation starts so quickly that clinical symptoms aren’t seen until much later in disease progression.
They were unable to affect disease progression, only to block the activation of T lymphocytes after the disease itself began to take hold, so any therapies started today would only help before MS symptoms showed up.
It is still an incredible find, there is no doubt about that, for future studies, therapies and perhaps that one step towards the ever-allusive cure.
The results have been published in the May issue of the Nature Medicine journal.
More about Myelin Repair Foundation: Since 2004, the Myelin Repair Foundation has funded basic research that has led to the publication of more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles, the identification of more than 100 novel potential myelin repair treatment targets and the discovery of multiple new research tools—animal models and assays—that may help to accelerate research on all neurological diseases. The Myelin Repair Foundation is supported by the generous gifts of individuals, foundations and corporations. Since 2004, we have raised $45 million to support our myelin repair research program.
Sources: 30.04.2013 Innovations Report, http://www.innovations-report.de/html/berichte/medizin_gesundheit/multiple_sclerosis_immune_cells_spark_autoimmune_213432.html; Biology Online, http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/T_lymphocyte; Myelin Repair Foundation, http://myelinrepair.org/;