While over 200 gene variations have been associated with MS, it is not known how many of these actually increase MS risk. One way to determine this is to look at the proteins made by the genes and see how they work together in cells to change risk. Recently, a group of international and Australian MS researchers have used a cutting-edge approach to identify the proteins related to MS risk with a particular focus on their role in immune cells – the cells that go awry in MS.
Published in Nature Communications, the researchers looked at a total of 47,351 people with MS and compared them with 68,284 people without MS. They came up with a network of proteins that were related to MS risk, showing how these proteins interact in different types of cells. Many of these interacting proteins were present in multiple immune cell types and these overlapping proteins were involved in immune signalling pathways (a chemical system by which cells communicate with each other).
Conversely, there wasn’t much protein interaction in the cells of the brain and spinal cord. This may be because this tissue consists of many cell types, which may have created too much noise for the study. The researchers also found some proteins that were only present in one cell type but not another, suggesting that part of the MS risk is due to changes that happen only in single cell types. Overall though, it seems that increased MS risk is due to major processes that are active across several immune cell types.
This approach was then used to calculate a cell type-specific risk score for each individual. By doing this, the researchers found stronger MS protein interactions in people with MS compared to those without MS and that in some cases, this could be linked to a specific type of cell.
This important research has found a way to model a person’s risk of MS that is specific to a cell type. While follow up studies will be required, this brings us one step closer to coming up with a personalised approach to therapy – where treatment decisions are tailored to an individual and their disease. It is hoped that personalising therapy in this way will lead to better decision making about treatment options and ultimately lead to better health outcomes for people with MS.