Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease that occurs when immune cells attack the upper spinal cord and brain, damaging myelin – the fatty substance that electrically insulates nerve fibres. This impairs communication in the nervous system, resulting in symptoms such as chronic fatigue, slurred speech, and memory loss. Treatments that subdue the immune assault are only partially effective because MS patients have fewer myelin-producing brain cells called oligodendrocytes to repair nerve fibres than healthy people. But scientists have now identified a set of compounds that boost their numbers. Pictured are myelin-coated nerve fibres (stained green) and oligodendrocytes (stained red) grown from mouse precursor cells cultured with an existing Parkinson’s drug called benztropine, which alleviated symptoms in mice with an MS-like disease. If researchers can figure out how benztropine persuades precursor cells to become oligodendrocytes, they could potentially make similarly effective drugs with fewer side effects.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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