Read about a study reporting that higher temperatures and changes in salt levels and types alter myelin structure in ways that increase vulnerability to MS.
Environmental changes, such as high temperatures and alterations in salt types and concentrations, trigger structural changes to myelin that may increase the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study.
The research, “Pathological transitions in myelin membranes driven by environmental and multiple sclerosis conditions,” was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS).
Efficient conduction of nerve impulses requires a healthy structure to myelin, the protective layer around nerve fibers.
A research team at Tel Aviv University had previously shown that myelin damage was associated with a structural change, one that altered myelin from a normal stack of thin layers to disease-related nano-scale tubes called inverted hexagonal shapes. This change resulted from altered lipid (fat) proportions and low content of myelin basic protein (MBP) — the key protein in myelin — resulting in pores spontaneously forming that increase susceptibility to an immune attack.
Aiming to further investigate environmental alterations that induce this structural change in myelin, the scientists used imaging techniques, such as X-ray scattering and cryogenic transmission electron microscopy, to track and measure myelin in healthy and diseased states in vitro (in the lab; outside of the body).
They first assessed the influence of replacing sodium with potassium, as both are needed to generate nerve impulses and to maintain body fluid balance. Then they analyzed the influence of calcium, as it plays a key role in neurotransmitter release from neurons; zinc, which regulates MBP; and magnesium, which affects nerve cell activity.