London: A new study has suggested that the neutralization of the cytokine GM-CSF could halt the development of multiple sclerosis.
In a major breakthrough in the battle against the disease, immunologist Burkhard Becher and his team at the University of Zurich made the demonstration in an animal model.
Unlike other known cytokines, this messenger substance is essential for the development of the disease. By the end of this year, a clinical trial will be launched in which GM-CSF is to be neutralized in MS patients.
The researchers had spent six years testing the relevant cytokines by a process of elimination in transgenic mouse models of multiple sclerosis.
Over the years, they were able to cross many factors off the list before eventually hitting the jackpot with GM-CSF (granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor).
GM-CSF is produced by a newly discovered subclass of helper T cells.
"The MS-like disease could not be induced in mice without GM-CSF," said Becher. "What`s more, the disease could even be cured in MS mice if the cytokine was neutralized," added Becher.
GM-CSF is not a new cytokine; we already knew that it can cause or aggravate inflammation. Apart from GM-CSF, however, all the other cytokines studied thus far only played a minor role.
"GM-CSF is therefore the first T-cell cytokine that`s essential for the initiation of an inflammatory reaction," said Becher.
Furthermore, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the GM-CSF delivered to the brain by T cells activates the recruitment of tissue-damaging scavenger cells.
"Without scavenger cells like these, the inflammation can``t really get going in the first place and the neutralization of GM-CSF can even reverse the inflammatory process," added the immunologist.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Immunology.