Photo: microscope slide showing stained immune cells

New insight into MS and the immune system

New research at our Edinburgh Centre for MS Research has found that certain immune cells must die in order for the body to repair myelin.

A surprising discovery

Our nerves are covered by a protective coating called myelin, which helps messages travel quickly and smoothly between the brain and the rest of the body. But in MS, the immune system recognises the myelin coating as foreign, and attacks it. This leads to many of the symptoms associated with MS.

Excitingly, this research shows that, as well as playing a role in the damage of myelin, the immune system is also involved in repairing myelin.  

Scientists say the findings – that certain immune cells must die in order for the body to repair myelin – could lead to vital new treatments for people living with MS.

Harmful macrophages must die

Senior study author and MS Society Scientific Ambassador Dr Veronique Miron said: “When myelin is damaged it stops nerves working properly. The body has the ability to repair myelin but in people with MS this doesn’t happen as effectively.

...myelin repair only occurs when immune cells called macrophages die.

"Our research found myelin repair only occurs when immune cells called macrophages die. The death of these harmful cells stops inflammation and means new, helpful cells are created that support myelin repair instead."

She continued: “We think that problems with myelin repair in MS may be caused when harmful macrophages don’t die. This surprising discovery could prove really crucial to new treatments, as we can now focus on finding a therapy that kills off the harmful macrophages and so helps repair myelin.”

Effective therapies for everyone with MS

Our Director of Research, Dr Susan Kohlhaas, said: “We’re driving research into more and better treatments, because the ones that do exist are mainly for relapsing MS. We urgently need treatments to slow and stop disability progression, so everyone with MS has access to an effective therapy.

"Discoveries like these are so exciting and will revolutionise the way MS is treated – which is why it’s vital we continue to support projects like this.”