Environmental factors such as elevated salt levels and temperature may cause structural changes in the protective coverings of nerve fibers that triggers multiple sclerosis, according to researchers at Tel Aviv University.From The Times of Israel:
The research shows that myelin sheaths — the “insulating tape” surrounding axons, which carry electrical impulses in neurons — undergo structural changes when triggered by certain conditions, such as salt concentration (salinity) and temperature. These changes in the myelin sheaths, according to the study, make the body vulnerable to autoimmune attacks that can lead to MS.
The disease causes the immune system to attack the myelin that covers nerve fibers, and thus causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. Some 1 million people in the US are estimated to be affected by the disease, according to preliminary results of a study by the National MS Society.
Previous research by Prof. Roy Beck of TAU’s School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the study, showed that changes to the structure of myelin sheaths are a factor in the disease’s development.
“Current therapeutic approaches have focused on the autoimmune response without identifying the culprit,” he said. “We have found that under certain environmental conditions, such as elevated salinity and temperature, myelin sheaths protecting neurons undergo structural transitions consistent with pathological myelin structures in multiple sclerosis.”
Beck stressed that the study — which was conducted by Rona Shaharabani, a doctoral student in Beck’s lab, and Maor Ram-On, a doctoral student in Prof. Ronen Talmon’s lab at the Technion Institute of Technology — does not mean people should stop consuming salt or taking baths but only that “further research is needed to understand how environmental conditions impact and are regulated in diseased patients.”
“Since we believe that these structural modifications result in myelin membrane vulnerability to the immune system attacks, it can help explain the causes of MS and perhaps pave the way for a treatment or a cure,” Shararabani said.
Shaharabani said that the researchers are now looking for other factors that could cause structural changes to myelin function, “which may unravel further insights to fight multiple sclerosis and related disorders.”