Multiple sclerosis: Edinburgh scientists’ discovery could pave way to new treatment

A NEW study has shed light on potential strategies to stop disability progression in multiple sclerosis.

A team at Edinburgh University used state-of-the-art imaging technology to examine the behaviour of a type of cell known as oligodendrocytes in zebrafish – minnow-sized fish with genetic similarities to humans.

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Oligodendrocytes produce the protective myelin coating around nerves, but are attacked by the immune system in MS.

Previous studies have suggested that the cells can survive MS attacks and may go on to produce new myelin but, until now, it was unknown how these ‘survivor cells’ compared to new oligodendrocytes produced after old ones are lost.

HeraldScotland: Zebrafish, which were used in the researchZebrafish, which were used in the research

The study showed surviving oligodendrocytes produce far less myelin than new ones and also send the myelin to the wrong part of the nerve.

Scientists saw this pattern in both zebrafish and in donated brain tissue from deceased MS patients.

The discovery unlocks new potential avenues for MS research, including looking at whether the surviving oligodendrocytes could respond to treatment to help boost their performance.

READ MORE: Researchers in bid to explain Scotland’s high rate of MS

Future research could also explore the benefit of targeting surviving cells for destruction in order to promote myelin repair through the generation of new oligodendrocytes.

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “Improving our understanding of what happens after myelin becomes damaged is one of our research priorities, and studies like this take us another step closer to finding treatments for everyone living with MS.”


Professor David Lyons, Associate director of the MS Society Edinburgh Centre for MS Research, said: “These new findings exemplify the power and importance of studying both animal models and the disease itself side by side.

“We have much to learn about the biology of oligodendrocytes that survive demyelination, but are confident that increasing our understanding of their contributions to remyelination will refine ongoing development of therapeutic strategies to stop MS.”

The study is published in Nature Neuroscience.

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