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New breakthrough helps understand the gender divide in MS

MS is known to affect women more frequently, with studies showing that around three out of every four people diagnosed with MS are female. New evidence from the Washington University School of Medicine in the USA highlights key differences in the brains of female mice and women with MS. Published last week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, this study is the first to identify a gender-specific brain difference relevant to MS.

Researchers found that a key blood vessel receptor, known as S1PR2, was present in mice with MS-like disease at higher levels in female mice than male mice. In female mice, the S1PR2 receptor gene was found to be more active in disease affected areas of the brain. This receptor (a docking molecule that receives signals on the surface of a cell) is located on blood vessels and is involved in regulating the permeability of the blood-brain-barrier, which acts to prevent foreign molecules from entering the brain. Some research has suggested that MS may be a consequence of disruption to the blood-brain-barrier, allowing immune cells to enter the brain which then cause damage. When the researchers gave the mice a drug to block the S1PR2 receptor, they found that the severity of disease symptoms in mice was dramatically reduced.

Importantly, the researchers also studied the post-mortem brains of people who had MS. The team again found that the S1PR2 receptor was more abundant in disease-susceptible regions of the brain and found in higher levels in females than males with MS. Furthermore, the S1PR2 levels were the highest in those women with relapsing-remitting type of MS.

Future research will explore the effects of targeting the S1PR2 receptor to improve functioning of the blood-brain-barrier. This may be an important avenue for future research to develop novel therapies for reducing disease severity in MS, especially for women with MS.

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New breakthrough helps understand the gender divide in MS