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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Drug that boosts nerve signals offers hope for multiple sclerosis

Trialled antibody treatment thought to work by renewing the protective coating of neurons.
“Once we get a positive result, the field will move very quickly,” says Jack Antel, a neurologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. But that excitement is tempered by practical hurdles: there is as yet no proven way to measure remyelination of nerve cells in living humans.
Myelin sheaths insulate and support axons, the fibres that transmit signals between nerve cells. In multiple sclerosis, immune attack destroys these sheaths. Stripped of this protective coating, the axons gradually wither away, causing the numbness and muscle spasms that are characteristic of the disease. The 12 drugs approved in the United States to treat multiple sclerosis slow this immune attack — although sometimes with dangerous side effects. But none stops it, says Bruce Trapp, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Anti-LINGO-1 blocks the LINGO-1 protein, which inhibits the production of myelin. In doing so, the drug spurs myelin growth. It has consistently performed well in animal models and in human cells grown in culture.
LINGO-1 is not the only target for myelin-boosting therapies. Acorda Therapeutics of Ardsley, New York, is conducting clinical trials of an antibody that binds to the cells that give rise to myelin, although its molecular target is unknown. And this week in Nature, researchers report that two drugs marketed for skin conditions help to repair myelin in mice and in cultured human cells (F. J. Najm et al. Nature; 2015).

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