October 2011 - Multiple Sclerosis (MS) involves an attack by immune system cells directed against myelin, the material that surrounds and protects nerve fibers (axons) in the brain and spinal cord. When myelin is damaged, axons fail to carry nerve signals correctly, resulting in neurological symptoms. Unlike the smooth insulation around an electrical wire, myelin is distributed in segments along axons with short gaps known as the nodes of Ranvier between successive segments, giving the appearance of a string of sausages. Myelin damage disturbs the organization of the nodes and the flanking regions, contributing to changes in nerve function.
Dr. Manzoor Bhat and colleagues are studying mice that have been genetically modified to make them deficient in key proteins that contribute to the organization of the nodes and related regions in myelinated axons. This will allow investigations to understand the processes of how the axonal domains are organized and how these proteins affect the function of axons when myelin is damaged, and whether disorganized axonal domains can be re-organized in a timely manner to prevent axonal damage. This could lead to important clues about how to prevent nodal disorganization or treat the impacts of axon degeneration that leads to neurological deficits in MS.