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What causes multiple sclerosis? Landmark study finds clue

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease with poorly understood causes.

Multiple sclerosis can cause debilitating fatigue, vision problems, impaired balance and coordination, and muscle stiffness. It is usually disabling, and its causes have not yet been clearly identified.

In multiple sclerosis (MS), our immune system mistakenly attacks myelin, or the sheath that covers the axon.

The axon is the projection that allows brain cells to send electric signals carrying information.

As the damage occurs, various functions — such as motor and cognitive functions and sight — are gradually impaired.

According to Atlas, an MS resource put together jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the MS International Federation in 2008, on a global level, “the median estimated prevalence of MS is 30 per 100,000,” and the United States has one of the highest prevalences of MS cases.

What exactly causes MS is yet unclear, meaning that, currently, treatments focus on managing the symptoms of the condition rather than eliminating its biological triggers.

But emerging research from the University of Geneva and the Geneva University Hospitals — both in Switzerland — may have just brought us one step closer to understanding what drives the development of this disease.

“We decided,” explains senior researcher Doron Merkler, “to analyze the infectious factors [in MS] by studying the autoimmune reactions provoked by different pathogens.”

Read on: What causes multiple sclerosis? Landmark study finds clue

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