Solving a multiple sclerosis mystery

In the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS), the immune system’s T cells attack the myelin sheaths surrounding nerve cells, potentially leading to neurodegeneration. But the reasons T cells attack in cases of MS have eluded researchers for years. Now, scientists from Yale and MIT have found a piece of the puzzle.

The team generated over 14,000 T cell libraries using blood samples from 23 MS patients and 22 healthy controls, and discovered that T cells from MS patients caused more inflammation than those from healthy patients. In MS patients, autoreactive T cells produce factors that signal the body’s inflammatory immune response, but those same autoreactive cells in healthy patients secrete anti-inflammatory agents instead.

“In most people, these T cells are acting to repair tissue, but in MS patients, they do damage to the nervous system,” said David Hafler, M.D., chair and the William S. and Lois Stiles Edgerly Professor of Neurology, professor of immunobiology, and senior author of the study, published in Science Translational Medicine in May. The authors contend that the anti-inflammatory agents produced by healthy controls may limit disease progression. The findings suggest a similar mechanism may be at work in other autoimmune diseases.


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