The immune system recognizes and neutralizes or destroys toxins and foreign pathogens that have gained access to the body. Autoimmune diseases result when the system attacks the body's own tissues instead. One of the most common examples is multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a serious condition in which nerve-cell projections, or axons, in the brain and the spinal cord are destroyed as a result of misdirected inflammatory reactions. It is often characterized by an unpredictable course, with periods of remission being interrupted by episodes of relapse. A team of researchers led by LMU Munich Professor Martin Kerschensteiner of the Medical Center of the University of Munich and Professor Thomas Misgeld from the Technical University of Munich has now been able to explain how the damage is inflicted. The results reveal that the inflammatory reaction can induce a previously unknown type of axonal degeneration, which they call "focal axonal degeneration" (FAD). In an animal model of MS, this process is reversible if it is recognized and treated early, so the researchers believe that it could serve as a potential target for therapeutic intervention. "Development of an effective treatment will be a long-term project," cautioned Dr. Kerschensteiner. "As yet, we only have a superficial understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms and, of course, finding effective therapies will require time-consuming screens and extensive trials of drug candidates." The new work was published online on March 27, 2011, in Nature Medicine. Multiple sclerosis is a common and, in many cases seriously disabling, autoimmune disease that can lead to the disturbance or loss of sensory function, voluntary movement, vision and bladder control.
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