9th Mar 2018

Cells' power stations are new target in fighting MS

9th Mar 2018

Curated by Nicolas Gutierrez

The dysfunction of cell’s energy generators – the mitochondria – plays a key role in multiple sclerosis and offers new ways of treatment.

In 10 seconds? Protecting our cells’ power generators is a new front in the battle against MS. Researchers discovered that overworked mitochondria end up killing nerve cells and speeding up the disease. (Read the science here)

Mitochondria are present in all human cells except red blood cells

Hang on, mito-what? The mitochondria – they produce most of the energy in our cells and keep them running. Although we still don’t know if their dysfunction is a cause or a consequence of MS, studies show that it is a key factor contributing to the disease. (Learn more)

How so? Well, MS damages nerve insulating myelin, so when a signal is sent down the nerve, part of the energy is lost and more is needed to deliver the message. But, new research suggests, the disease compromises nerves’ energy generating ability. In a breakthrough, scientists were able to ramp it up by injecting a compound called EPO into lab mice.

So it’s promising, right? Well, extra energy generation causes something akin to emitting more harmful gases by a power plant. A toxin called Rab32 was found in MS sufferers brains, but not in healthy people. Rab32 destroys the mitochondria and then their parent nerve cells. So, being able to keep energy production at normal levels could help keep MS in check.

Why are mitochondria so important for neurons? Because nerve cells need a lot of energy. They communicate using electrically charged molecules and mitochondria play a part in regulating the level of these molecules. And, as I mentioned, when MS sets in, overworked mitochondria contribute to harming nerve cells. (Find out more)

So protecting mitochondria is useful against MS? Yes! By shielding mitochondria against stress, energy production in cells could be kept on a non-toxic level. One idea is to protect mitochondria with antioxidants. Combined with existing treatments, this could slow or even stop the progression of MS. (More on this)

Why healthy mitochondria are so important

The poor state of our cells’ powerhouses can cause a host of symptoms apart from playing a role in MS.

Problems with the mitochondria – present in every human cell except red blood cells – can result in poor growth, reduced hearing and sight, heart disease and many others.

Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and even chronic fatigue syndrome all involve mitochondrial dysfunction.

Mitochondrial disorders can be the result of genetic mutations or adverse environmental causes.

(Psst, Nicolas distilled 10 research papers to save you 617.3 min)

Curated by

Nicolas Gutierrez

Nicolas is a science journalist based in France. He completed his PhD at the University of Bordeaux specialising in mitochondria and genetics.

Share this digest