Study details source of mental problems associated with multiple sclerosis

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Study details source of mental problems associated with multiple sclerosis

Researchers are seeking to understand how multiple sclerosis damages the brain to cause cognitive decline.

A study out today sheds new light on multiple sclerosis (MS), specifically damage in the brain caused by the disease that may explain the slow and continuous cognitive decline that many patients experience. The findings, which appear in the Journal of Neuroscience, show that the brain’s immune system is responsible for disrupting communication between nerve cells, even in parts of the brain that are not normally considered to be primary targets of the disease.

“This study identifies for the first time a new disease mechanism in MS which causes damage to neurons independent of the loss of white matter and demyelination that is the hallmark of the disease,” said the lead author, neurologist Matthew Bellizzi, M.D., Ph.D., with the Center for Neural Development and Disease at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). “This damage represents another component of the disease and one that is not prevented by the current immunosuppressive drugs employed to treat MS.”

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that affects an estimated one million people worldwide. While the precise cause of MS is unknown, it has long been understood that the immune system in individuals with MS attacks myelin, a fatty white matter tissue in the central nervous system that wraps the fibers—or axons—that connect nerve cells. When myelin is lost or damaged, a process called demyelination, signals between nerve cells can be delayed, disrupted, or even blocked.

Most people associate MS with motor and sensory symptoms like muscle weakness, numbness or tingling in arms and legs, difficulty with coordination, walking, and balance, blurred vision, and slurred speech. However, up to 70 percent of people with MS will also go on to develop cognitive problems later in life, such as difficulty processing information, concentrating, finding the right word when speaking, and memory loss.

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