The role of microparticles in the brain in MS

Angelica Panopoulos

The University of Sydney, NSW

| Better treatments | Immunology | Scholarship | 2017 | Investigator Led Research |


MS results from immune cells entering the brain and spinal cord and mistakenly attacking the insulation around nerve fibres, called mylein. Usually, immune cells are blocked from entering the brain by the blood brain barrier, but in MS this barrier is faulty and immune cells can enter the brain and spinal cord.

During this scholarship, Ms Angelica Panopoulos will extend on findings from her research project undertaken as part of her honours degree. She will investigate whether tiny cell fragments called microparticles contribute to breaking down the blood brain barrier and inflammation.

Ms Panopoulos will try to determine whether microparticles can penetrate a laboratory model of the blood brain barrier, and if they affect other molecules in the immediate area.

A more complete understanding of these interactions could uncover the mechanisms at work during attacks of MS and identify novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of MS.

Project Outcomes

Ms Panopoulos investigated the ability of microparticles to disrupt a laboratory grown model of the blood brain barrier that normally protects the brain and spinal cord. She was able to produce microparticles from blood cells from people with and without MS. Her studies revealed that microparticles that come from immune cells which had previously been treated with chemicals that promote inflammation were able to affect the blood brain barrier model, whereas cells which hadn’t received the inflammatory signal did not affect the blood brain barrier. This result showed that these cells needed to be exposed to inflammation before they can disrupt the blood brain barrier.

Ms Panopoulos was able to use a technique called flow cytometry, where individual cells are passed in front of a laser meaning each individual single cell can be measured for various properties and the cells can also be  labelled with fluorescent chemicals. Using this technique, Ms Panopoulos discovered that particular protein on the surface of the blood brain barrier cells were affected. These proteins are called cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) which help keep the brain barrier intact. In her research, it did not matter whether the microparticles were from people with or without MS, nor if the people were taking Fingolmoid or not. This suggests that the microparticles that affect the blood brain barrier are not unique to people with MS, but might be otherwise affected by the disease.

Preliminary results indicate that microparticles from specific subtypes of B cells, an immune cell, were more effective at altering the CAMS on the blood brain barrier cells, than other cells.

These preliminary results suggest how the blood brain barrier might be disrupted and may help determine how MS initially develops.

Updated: 21 July 2017

Updated: 11 January, 2017


  • Angelica Panopoulos, The University of Sydney, NSW


Grant Awarded

  • Vacation Scholarship

Total Funding

  • $6,000


  • 1 year over 2017

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The role of microparticles in the brain in MS