In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the brain and spinal cord, or the central nervous system (CNS). One part of the CNS that is attacked is the myelin. Normally, myelin coats the nerve cells in the brain, allowing them to send signals quickly and efficiently.
The immune system is made up of a number of different cell types, one of which is the macrophages. Macrophages are a cell type that can behave differently depending on the circumstances – they can switch between destroying myelin and promoting the remyelination of nerve cells.
Dr Claire McCoy from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Victoria, is investigating a molecule that is involved in this switch, called miR-155. During this incubator grant, Dr McCoy will investigate the role of miR-155 in macrophages by deleting this molecule only from macrophage cells (and not other immune cell types) in a laboratory model of MS. The impact of this will be assessed in relation to disease outcomes, and the effect it has on other cells of the immune system and cells in the CNS.
This project could provide a new therapeutic target that may enable the body to promote repair of the damage caused by MS, potentially reversing the effects of the disease.
Dr McCoy and her team have successfully created a laboratory model of MS in which the miR-155 is selectively absent in macrophage cells. Macrophages move in large numbers into the brain and spinal cord during the progression of MS and cause damage and demyelination to the nerve cells.
The team has assessed the effects of removing miR-155 on disease progression and severity in a laboratory model of MS. They have also assessed the effects that removing miR-155 in macrophages has had on the other cells in the immune system, and whether it influences the movement of immune cells to different parts of the body, including the number of immune cells that move into the brain and spinal cord. The results are currently under embargo while they are prepared to be written up for a scientific journal. We look forward to reporting on these results when they are published.
This work is ongoing and Dr McCoy has used data from this incubator project to successfully secure significant funding to continue this important work. She has managed to secure €1.5m from the Science Foundation Ireland.
Updated: 31 March 2019
Updated: 23 January, 2017