Researchers have discovered which brain cells are most affected by neurodegeneration, and believe their findings could lead to vital new treatments that help prevent disability in those with the condition.
The study, which analysed post-mortem brain tissue samples from people who had been living with MS, found a dramatic reduction in the number of inhibitory brain cells (or neurons) compared to people without the condition.
The number of stimulating neurons remained the same – even in people who had MS for decades.
“Our research has shown that a specific type of neuron, called an inhibitory interneuron, is damaged in people with MS,” said lead researcher Professor Anna Williams.
"This is really important because, in the search for new treatments, it focuses our efforts on trying to stop the damage and death of these special cells. Our next step is to convert this knowledge into new treatments that protect nerves and prevent neurodegeneration – and ultimately disability – in people living with MS.”
Current treatments for MS target rogue immune activity and reduce the damage to myelin, but there are no treatments that can prevent nerves from damage – a goal which it is hoped this study will bring scientists closer towards.
This is the first project to show the selective loss of specific nerve cells in people with MS, which researchers believe will be vital to others working hard to stop the condition.
Morna Simpkins, MS Society Scotland director, said: “In order to stop MS, we need to find ways to prevent immune attacks, repair myelin and protect nerves from damage. We’ve made huge progress in finding treatments that target the immune system, but many people living with MS still don’t have access to effective treatments. We believe this study represents a vital step in our mission to stop MS.
“Work like this, which is based at our Edinburgh Centre and used samples from the MS Society Tissue Bank, shows just how important charity funded research is to the overall research landscape, and we’re proud to have made it possible.”