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Does fractalkine coordinate myelin repair in MS?

Anna Williams
Lead researcher:
Professor Anna Williams
Based at:
University of Edinburgh
MS Society funding:

About the project

In MS the protective myelin coating around nerve cells is damaged. Helping the body repair myelin is one of the most promising areas of research to develop new treatments for all forms of MS. There are many molecules involved in remyelination, but to develop the most effective treatments, we need to identify those controlling the overall process.

This project will test the hypothesis that the binding molecule fractalkine plays a critical role in myelin repair.  It will investigate whether the interactions between fractalkine and the receptors it binds to can be controlled to improve remyelination.

Initial experiments have shown that fractalkine affects the development of oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for producing myelin. It's also involved in encouraging other cells to clean up damaged myelin and produce substances that encourage repair.

Research will involve looking at the impact changing levels of fractalkine have in a mouse model of MS and examining human brain tissue donated by people with MS.

Results so far

Results of Anna’s experiments have been promising and progress continues to be made. The fractalkine receptor has been shown to be present on specialist anti-inflammatory cells in the brain, called microglia, but not on the brain stem cells that encourage oligodendrocyte production.

The research team found that microglia communicate with these brain stem cells and loss of the fractalkine receptor on microglia reduces the signalling to stem cells to produce myelin-making oligodendrocytes. The team also found that in mice, myelin repair decreases when fractalkine signalling is reduced.

Future experiments will help to explain why a lack of fractalkine-receptor signalling reduces myelin repair.

How will it help people with MS?

If we can show that fractalkine plays an important role in the remyelination process then we can look for drugs that control its presence in the brain. This is therefore the first step in developing an important new treatment that could benefit everyone living with MS.

The difference you can make

There are currently no strategies to slow progression in MS. Supporting research like this helps to bring us closer to reaching this goal.

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