How does a “molecular motor” affect risk and progression of MS?

Early research

There’s no single gene that will definitely cause someone to develop MS, but we know that having certain genes can make a person more susceptible.

Recently, a gene called KIF21B was linked to increased susceptibility to MS. This means that individuals with one particular version of this gene are more likely to develop MS than others.

The gene KIF21B gives instructions to make a "molecular motor". This motor moves things around inside the cell and also helps the cell to stay stable. It’s found inside different brain cells, including myelin-making cells. Research suggests it’s important for keeping myelin from deteriorating over time.

Research has also shown that, in MS, making lots of the KIF21B motor is associated with a faster progression of the condition. But, we don’t know whether more KIF21B is involved in causing progression, or whether your MS progressing causes you to produce more KIF21B. It could be protective or toxic to nerve cells.

About the project

This project will help to understand the role KIF21B plays in MS risk and in MS progression.

To find out why the KIF21B motor is important for preserving myelin, the researchers will focus on the role it plays in two brain cells: myelin-making cells and astrocytes. They’ll study a special breed of mice that don’t make the motor in these cells, to see how the cells function without this motor. This will show what role KIF21B plays.

To find out more about the link between KIF21B and MS progression, the researchers will first work out what can cause brain cells to make more of the motor. Then they’ll use cells in a dish to see what effect an overload of KIF21B can have on nerve cells.

How will it help people with MS?

This project will study one of the few genes which is both linked with increased risk in MS and is known to have a function in myelin-making cells. Eventually, by knowing how KIF21B functions in these cells, researchers will understand better the link to susceptibility and progression in MS. This could lead to finding new strategies to develop treatments.