Gene could be used to treat MS

Mon, Oct 8, 2012, 01:00

NEW TREATMENTS for multiple sclerosis (MS) and other auto-immune diseases could flow from an important discovery made by scientists at NUI Maynooth.

They were trying to understand the role of a gene called Pellino3 and how it comes into play when a person develops a viral infection.

They found it acts as a “braking system” that helps to regulate the immune response during infection. Details of the work, led by Paul Moynagh, director of the Institute of Immunology at NUI Maynooth, are published today in the prestigious journal Nature Immunology.

The gene regulates production of proteins called interferons, explained Prof Moynagh. These are released by the body as soon as it detects an invading virus. As their name implies, they interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate and to invade nearby cells.

The release of these powerful proteins must be kept under check however, said Prof Moynagh. “If they are not tightly controlled the person can end up with auto-immune diseases.”

If too many interferons are released it can lead to inflammatory diseases such as lupus, while having too few available during infection can trigger diseases such as multiple sclerosis and support damage caused by other viruses such as hepatitis.

The 10 scientists in his group did intensive research into the role of Pellino3, using a mouse model, and have clarified its function in regulating the production of interferons. “Pellino3 seems to be a key molecule for switching interferons off,” he said.

Prof Moynagh, who is also the new head of the Department of Biology at Maynooth, won a Science Foundation Ireland principal investigator award in support of the research. The Health Research Board also backed the work via the PhD Scholars Programme in Immunology.

The team is now seeking ways to exploit the finding, which has “potential for the treatment of major auto-immune diseases”.

“The ultimate objective of our project is the development, production and commercialisation of pharmaceuticals which can help to combat immune-mediated diseases such as multiple sclerosis.”

The findings were also a clear example of the benefits of supporting basic research. This type of research “feeds the pipeline through which pharmaceutical development and disease treatment can occur”, said Prof Moynagh.