In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulating layer of nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord during episodes of inflammation. However, not all immune cells are involved in this destructive mechanism and there are types of immune cells that promote the protection of the nervous system. These protective cells are part of a complex network that originates in the gut. Indeed, these immune cells can act in the intestine itself, but most surprisingly they can travel around the body to distant sites such as the brain and spinal cord where they can dampen down the harmful impact of inflammation occurring in MS.
Professor Gabrielle Belz and her team have discovered that specific types of cells found in the intestine called M cells seem to be essential in producing these protective immune cells. In this project, through a combination of complex genetic and analytical methods, she is characterising M cells and investigating factors that influence how they work. She is also examining how they trigger the creation of protective immune cells.
Professor Belz and her team have made some exciting discoveries regarding M cells regulating certain blood cells called IgA plasma cells, which make a class of antibodies called IgA. These cells may promote protection of the brain and spinal cord from attacks of inflammation in MS. They have found that M cells are essential in the gut IgA antibody response and are necessary to protect against colonisation from certain bacteria. Additionally, the composition of the gut bacteria (or “microbiome”) is vastly different with and without M cells, which may provide clues as to how MS develops. As a result of this research, two new laboratory models of MS have also been developed to try and work out the drivers of pathogenic and protective antibodies in these models.
Professor Belz is also in the process of identifying key factors involved in the regulation of IgA antibodies by M cells that will shed light on the gut signals that protect the brain from inflammation.
The findings of this study have been presented at national conferences and seminars. Moving forward, Professor Belz believes she can resolve a key mystery linking the immune response generated in the gut and its role and impact in the brain. Hopefully, these future discoveries will also offer potential new targets for treatment of MS through altering the immune response.
Updated: 31 March 2022
Updated: 21 January, 2020
Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.
Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.
Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.