Researchers have long suspected that a self-antigen—a normal molecule in the body that the immune system mistakenly treats as a threat—can trigger MS.
…[I]mmunologists Roland Martin and Mireia Sospedra of University Hospital of Zurich in Switzerland and their colleagues analyzed immune cells known as T cells that came from a patient who died from MS. T cells normally switch on when they encounter protein fragments containing just a few amino acids that belong to an invading microbe, but they also turn on in people who have MS.
The researchers wanted to determine which protein shards stimulated the patients’ T cells, so they tested 200 fragment mixtures, each containing 300 billion varieties. The two fragments with the strongest effect turned out to be part of a human enzyme called guanosine diphosphate-L-fucose synthase.
Although guanosine diphosphate-L-fucose synthase is prevalent in the brain, “it has never been a candidate in the past,” says neuroimmunologist Reinhard Hohlfeld.
If guanosine diphosphate-L-fucose synthase turns out to be one of the elusive MS self-antigens, dosing patients with it might tame symptoms such as numbness and muscle weakness in much the same way that allergy shots prevent people from reacting to substances like ragweed pollen, Sospedra says. She and her colleagues plan to start to test this strategy with MS patients next year.
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