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Scientists discover new genetic clues to what triggers multiple sclerosis

The discovery could lead to better treatments for a condition that blights the lives of almost three million people worldwide.

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

New genetic clues to what triggers multiple sclerosis have been discovered by scientists.

Cells in the central nervous system called oligodendrocytes play a key role in its development, according to new research.

The discovery could lead to better treatments for a condition that blights the lives of almost three million people worldwide.

Lead author Professor Goncalo Castelo-Branco, of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, said: "Our findings suggest that the risk for multiple sclerosis might manifest by misfunction not only of immune cells, but also of oligodendrocytes and their precursor cells."

Multiple Sclerosis, abbreviated to MS, is an inflammatory disease which affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other effectively.

It can have a wide range of physical and neurological effects. As yet there is no cure.

The international team found oligodendrocytes are more significant than previously thought - opening the door to fresh therapeutical approaches.

In MS, immune cells attacking oligodendrocytes and myelin, a protective insulating sheath around nerve cells.

This disrupts information flow in the brain and spinal cord - causing tremors, loss of gait and other symptoms.

Understanding which mechanisms influence the risk is central to finding effective treatments.

Previous studies have identified mutations associated with MS - many near genes that are active in immune cells.

Now, experiments on mice and human brain samples have identified oligodendrocytes and their progenitors local to them.

Prof Castelo-Branco said: "These findings indicate that these cells can also be targeted for therapeutical approaches for MS, to prevent misfunction that might be caused by these mutations."

The NHS describes MS as "a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance."

It is a lifelong illness that can often lead to disability, although sometimes the symptoms are more mild.

In most cases, symptoms can be treated, but the average life expectancy is slightly reduced for those who suffer with it.

The study is in Neuron.

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