Blood Protein Could Treat Multiple Sclerosis, Neurological Conditions

The brain may stop the process of repairing myelin due to a blood clotting protein.

In many diseases that affect the nervous system, nerve fibers lose their protective coating and cause serious adverse events. Demyelinated nerves have a reduced ability to transmit signals quickly, which can impair cognition and movement.

Prior studies have shown that the brain begins to repair myelin but stops before the process is complete. Researchers have previously attempted to understand why the repair stops since this could hold the key to curing neurological diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord injuries, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study published by Neuron suggests that a protein in the blood may provide a groundbreaking new treatment for the conditions.

The authors discovered that when the blood clotting protein fibrinogen leaks into the central nervous system (CNS), it prohibits brain cells from creating or repairing myelin, according to the study.

The stem cells that repair myelin exist in the CNS and travel to the sites of damage. These cells then mature to myelin-producing cells; however, this process is blocked in many neurological diseases, thus preventing the brain from repairing myelin.

Other studies have focused on understanding what was happening inside the cell, but the current study focused on what was happening outside the cell.

“We thought it might be important to look instead at the toxic environment outside the cell, where blood proteins accumulate” said senior author Katerina Akassoglou, PhD. “We realized that targeting the blood protein fibrinogen could open up the possibility for new types of therapies to promote brain repair.”

The research team previously studied the role of the blood-brain barrier and fibrinogen in the conditions and discovered that when blood seeps into the brain, fibrinogen sparks inflammation through brain immune cells. The authors noted that the inflammatory process can result in brain damage.

In the new study, the researchers discovered that blood leaking into the brain can also inhibit stem cells from maturing into myelin-producing cells.

“We found that fibrinogen stops adult stem cells from transforming into the mature cells that produce myelin,” said first author Mark Petersen, MD. “This blockade could be harmful for regeneration in the brain.”

Myelin regeneration is crucial for MS, stroke, neonatal brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurological conditions, according to the study. These findings could result in numerous new treatment approaches.

The authors are now looking for novel ways to target fibrinogen to restore the repair of myelin, which could lead to a potential cure for MS or other neurological diseases.

“Repairing myelin by eliminating the toxic effects of vascular damage in the brain is a new frontier in disease therapeutics,” said researcher Lennart Mucke, MD. “This study could change the way we think about how to repair the brain.”