Oct. 29, 2008 -- Multiple sclerosis (MS) results when the body's own defense system attacks nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Now scientists led by John Russell, Ph.D., at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that interferon-gamma plays a deciding role in whether immune cells attack and injure the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) in mice.
Interferon-gamma is an immune system protein that helps the body defend itself from invaders. In their latest research, which appeared in the October issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the researchers show that interferon-gamma determined whether activated immune cells — previously primed to go after nerve cells — would actually cause nerve damage in experimental mice.
The researchers found that in the cerebellums and brain stems of the mice, interferon-gamma was protective. However, in the spinal cord, interferon-gamma had the opposite effect, permitting nerve cell damage.