A DISCOVERY that ageing nerve fibres can be rejuvenated by young cells may have important implications for treating multiple sclerosis (MS), scientists said. MS occurs when the immune system destroys myelin, the fatty insulating layer protecting nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord.
Symptoms can range from mild numbness and tingling to vision loss and crippling paralysis.
Early in the disease, the myelin can repair itself and maintain normal nerve function.
But as the patient ages, this ability – known as remyelination – is increasingly lost, making treatment much more difficult. Less myelin is restored until nerve fibres are permanently destroyed.
The new study on mice shows that the age-associated decline of remyelination can be reversed.
When old mice were exposed to immune cells taken from the blood of young mice, the myelin covering their spinal cord nerve fibres began to regenerate.
The discovery could lead to new therapies for MS, according to the British and US scientists whose work is reported online in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Professor Robin Franklin, director of the MS Society’s Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair at Cambridge University, said: “We found remyelination in old adult mice can be made to work as efficiently as it does in young adult mice.
“For individuals with MS, this means that in theory regenerative therapies will work throughout the duration of the disease.
“Specifically, it means that remyelination therapies do not need to be based on stem cell transplantation since the stem cells already present in the brain and spinal cord can be made to regenerate myelin – regardless of the patient’s age.”
MS affects around 100,000 people in the UK, and several million worldwide.