Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease that is unpredictable and often disabling in affected individuals. It is more specifically a disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that afflicts the transport of information in the brain, and how this information is being transmitted to the rest of the body.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for MS; however, recent research at Mainz University Medical Center in collaboration with the University of Montreal has proposed a new treatment. The researchers experimented in model mice using endothelial cells and discovered that a protein known as EGFL7 hinders the transportation of immune cells into the CNS by maintaining the blood-brain barrier.
The research team leaders are Dr. Timo Uphaus and Professor Frauke Zipp of the Department of Neurology at the University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in collaboration with Dr. Catherine Larochelle of the University of Montreal and Professor Mirko Schmidt as well as researchers of the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK). The purpose of the research study is to develop a drug treatment that will stop the pathology of MS from progressing. The focus was the molecule EGFL7 and its role in cell migration MS.
EGFL7 is released into the blood-brain barrier by endothelial cells. In breast cancer, EGFL7 was examined not to have an influence on cellular migration to tumor tissue. For MS, the significance of immune cells is its migration to the brain; this motivated researchers to investigate the relationship between cell migration and the protein EGFL7, and later to propose a treatment for MS.
Investigators discovered that inflammation in the central nervous system was due to increased levels of EGFL7. Since immune cells bind to EGFL7, the protein cannot cross into the central nervous system. When EGFL7 is released, the immune cells are retained in the perivascular space. In model trials, the investigators found that exposure to the protein made the blood-brain barrier less permeable. Additionally, the transportation of immune cells into the central nervous system was reduced.
These discoveries opposed the pathological characteristics of MS and improved the clinical symptoms. The findings concluded that in a human blood-brain barrier model, the migration of immune cells was greatly reduced in isolated endothelial cells. Researchers believe that it may be possible to use EGFL7’s inhibiting properties on migrating immune cells as well as the proteins ability to enhance the impenetrability of the blood-brain barrier. Overall, the results illustrate how EGFL7 can limit CNS immune cell invasion encouraging a potential drug development that involves EGFL7 agonist in the treatment of MS.
The research study was published in Nature Communications.