Are red blood cells sending messages and what is the role in MS?

Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott

Hunter Medical Research Institute

| Causes and Prevention | Immunology | Incubator | 2018 | Investigator Led Research |


This project examined cellular messengers in the blood in MS, that could play a critical role in regulating the autoimmune response in the brain.  Blood cells release particles known as “extracellular vesicles” that contain some of the cell’s internal contents, including messenger molecules.  This is an important mechanism by which cells communicate with one another. Researchers are able to examine the surface of these vesicles and determine which type of cell they originated from, and how their cellular messengers are changed in MS.  This can provide important insights into how the inflammatory process is being regulated.

Project Outcomes

Professor Lechner-Scott’s team discovered that in MS, there was an increase of extracellular vesicles released from both red blood cells, and from cells that line the blood vessels. However, they also discovered that some of the other immune and blood cells produced less. Importantly, there are different types of these vesicles and this group showed that the amount of specific types changed when someone had MS and this correlated with significant clinical measures. As an example, people with greater disability harboured less vesicles from platelets in their blood. It is hoped that the development of these findings may ultimately help physicians to distinguish between disease courses to help guide the best treatment approach.

The team also analysed the messenger molecules contained within these particles from red blood cells. These messenger molecules (called “microRNA”) act as switches to turn genes off or on in neighbouring cells: an effective way of influencing the activity of surrounding immune cells.  In MS, several messenger molecules from red blood cells were altered. Using prediction algorithms, the team determined that some of these messengers could specifically regulate genes that have been previously linked to increased risk of MS.

Professor Lechner Scott said, “We hope that this information can enhance our understanding of the disease and with further investigation lead to the discovery of new therapies”.

Updated 18 June 2020

Updated: 02 January, 2018


  • Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott, Hunter Medical Research Institute


  • Ms Kira Groen, University of Newcastle
  • Dr Vicki E. Maltby, University of Newcastle
  • Associate Professor Lotti Tajouri, Bond University

Grant Awarded

  • Incubator Grant

Total Funding

  • $25,000


  • 1 year

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Are red blood cells sending messages and what is the role in MS?