Misguided killer T cells may be the missing link in sustained tissue damage in the brains and spines of people with multiple sclerosis, findings from the University of Washington reveal. Cytoxic T cells, also known as CD8+ T cells, are white blood cells that normally are in the body's arsenal to fight disease.
Multiple sclerosis is characterized by inflamed lesions that damage the insulation surrounding nerve fibers and destroy the axons, electrical impulse conductors that look like long, branching projections. Affected nerves fail to transmit signals effectively.
Intriguingly, the UW study, published this week in Nature Immunology, also raises the possibility that misdirected killer T cells might at other times act protectively and not add to lesion formation. Instead they might retaliate against the cells that tried to make them mistake the wrappings around nerve endings as dangerous.
Scientists Qingyong Ji and Luca Castelli performed the research with Joan Goverman, UW professor and chair of immunology. Goverman is noted for her work on the cells involved in autoimmune disorders of the central nervous system and on laboratory models of multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis generally first appears between ages 20 to 40. It is believed to stem from corruption of the body's normal defense against pathogens, so that it now attacks itself. For reasons not yet known, the immune system, which wards off cancer and infection, is provoked to vandalize the myelin sheath around nerve cells. The myelin sheath resembles the coating on an electrical wire. When it frays, nerve impulses are impaired.
Depending on which nerves are harmed, vision problems, an inability to walk, or other debilitating symptoms may arise. Sometimes the lesions heal partially or temporarily, leading to a see-saw of remissions and flare ups. In other cases, nerve damage is unrelenting.
The myelin sheaths on nerve cell projection
|Contact: Leila Gray|
University of Washington