SEP 14, 2021 7:00 AM PDT

Extinguishing Fires in the Brains of MS Patients

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

A closer look at the brains of patients with aggressive, debilitating forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) reveals some striking features. Among them, the presence of “smoldering” inflammatory hotspots. After intense scrutiny, neuroscientists have finally nailed down the cells that drive these regions of heightened inflammation, findings that lay the groundwork for next-generation therapies to treat progressive MS.

Previously, neural immune cells called microglia were thought to be responsible for initiating and expanding these neural lesions. Microglia are dispersed throughout the brain and spinal cord are among the core protectors of the central nervous system, removing damaged cells and resisting infections. However, in MS patients, microglia go into overdrive, churning out a cocktail of inflammatory factors that devastate surrounding neural tissues. However, the other cells that may be contributing to this uncontrolled inflammation have remained elusive.

Fortunately, single-cell RNA sequencing technology is helping to shed light on these long-standing mysteries, empowering scientists with the ability to collect data on gene activity signatures within individual cells. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) leveraged this platform to analyze a panel of post-mortem brain tissues from MS patients and healthy controls.

In their work, detailed in the high-impact journal Nature, the researchers describe the genetic profiling of a total of over 66,000 brain cells. The data collected was consolidated as the first cellular blueprint of MS chronic lesions, which included valuable data on both gene expression on an individual cell level and how these cells interact with each other.

Fascinatingly, the team’s analysis revealed that microglia only made up around a quarter of the immune cells present in MS brain lesions—a diverse ecosystem of immune cells including astrocytes and lymphocytes operated in unison to contribute to the elevated inflammation.

“Our dataset is very rich. The beauty of having such a detailed map is that now we have a better understanding of the entire network of cells involved in smoldering inflammation,” said Martina Absinta, one of the researchers involved in the study.

The investigation also revealed a clear connection between a complement protein called complement component 1q (C1q) and rampant neuroinflammation in the brains of MS patients. Experimental mouse models lacking the C1q gene displayed much less tissue inflammation than their wild-type counterparts. Together, the authors believe that their discoveries finally open up exciting new possibilities in MS drug development, which up to now have offered no clinical solutions for neither directly targeting active brain lesions nor curing the disease altogether.

 


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
JUN 24, 2021
Immunology
Should We Rethink COVID Vaccine Recipes?
JUN 24, 2021
Should We Rethink COVID Vaccine Recipes?
In a study reported in the journal Cell, immunologists provide evidence for an Achilles’ heel in current COVI ...
JUN 24, 2021
Immunology
Gut-Healing Stem Cells to Treat HIV Infections
JUN 24, 2021
Gut-Healing Stem Cells to Treat HIV Infections
A new study has revealed how stem cells can be used to amplify immune responses to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The ...
AUG 26, 2021
Immunology
Sugar-Coating Organs Stops Them From Getting Rejected
AUG 26, 2021
Sugar-Coating Organs Stops Them From Getting Rejected
Once organ failure patients receive the gift of a transplant, they face a life-long threat of immune rejection. Their im ...
SEP 16, 2021
Cancer
Inspiring Hope during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
SEP 16, 2021
Inspiring Hope during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Childhood cancers, also known as pediatric cancers, are diagnosed in patients up to 14 years old.  Estimates for 20 ...
SEP 14, 2021
Immunology
The Spleen Creates Long-Lasting Protection Against the Flu Virus
SEP 14, 2021
The Spleen Creates Long-Lasting Protection Against the Flu Virus
You share an elevator with an individual who is coughing and sneezing, only to find yourself feeling unwell a few days l ...
SEP 23, 2021
Cardiology
Curbing Adverse Cardiovascular Outcomes Through Influenza Vaccination
SEP 23, 2021
Curbing Adverse Cardiovascular Outcomes Through Influenza Vaccination
Influenza is a severe infectious disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the H1N1 strain of ...
Loading Comments...