MS has more in common with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS than researchers previously thought. A new discovery shows the disease process may be driven by a misfolded protein.

Scientists know that certain misfolded or “rogue” proteins cause damage in many neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In a new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology, researchers found a similar rogue protein is present in multiple sclerosis (MS), shedding new light on the course of the disease.

Investigators from the University of Surrey developed unique antibodies designed to target rogue proteins in a disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a degenerative illness that causes dementia.

The surprise came when the researchers discovered these same antibodies could detect rogue proteins in other diseases.

Read More About Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease »

“Proteins are molecules produced by the cell in order to fulfill vital functions,” explained lead investigator Dr. Mourad Tayebi in an interview with Healthline. “For reasons that remain elusive, some of these proteins adopt a permanent abnormal state or shape; hence the [title] rogue proteins.”

“Some of these rogue proteins are associated with devastating brain and other disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes,” said Tayebi. “Scientists believe they are the major culprits behind cell death and associated symptoms recognized in these diseases.”

The team was initially working to develop a diagnostic test that would reveal Alzheimer’s disease before a person experienced obvious symptoms. They developed antibodies that bind to the rogue proteins that are hallmarks of that disease.

“What is important to note,” said Tayebi, “is that our antibodies possess a unique capability of binding to a number of biologically different rogue proteins found in different diseases.”

That meant the researchers could use the antibodies designed to find Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Alzheimer’s diseases to explore a wider range of conditions.

Because MS is also characterized by damage to the brain, Tayebi’s team wondered if rogue proteins might be involved in the disease. Using the antibodies they had developed in experiments on donated tissue and fluid samples, they proved that “rogue proteins are indeed found in the brains and cerebrospinal fluids of MS patients.”

The takeaway is that MS may be more closely related to diseases like Parkinson’s or type 2 diabetes than previously suspected, according to Tayebi.

“Although the proteins found in [each of] these diseases are biologically different, their derived rogue state is recognized by the same antibodies,” explained Tayebi. “This strongly suggests that a common disease mechanism underlies these disorders.”

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The revelation that a rogue protein is at play in MS may redefine MS research. Not only does it provide another piece of the disease puzzle, but it may also open new avenues to treat the condition.

“Future work should concentrate on tackling MS in the way we approach Alzheimer’s, for example,” Tayebi said.

First, Tayebi’s team wants to isolate the rogue proteins and then work out how they could be causing MS. To date, researchers have only been able to speculate on what triggers the disease.

But the long view is toward a cure.

“Our ultimate goal is to simply cure MS and other devastating neurological disorders to bring relief to the patients and their families,” Tayebi said.

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