Multiple sclerosis: UWM researchers get close to understanding its underlying causes

prof. Selmaj i Mycko siedzą przy biurku i oglądają jakieś papiery
Multiple sclerosis is a diagnosis that can sound like a death sentence. We do not yet know a cure for this disease, although thanks to the research of a team of scientists from the UWM, we are close to understanding how it develops. This opens up the possibility of designing an effective way of combating the disease.

Neurology Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation is a specialist American research journal, one of the most important in the world, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, published by the leading scientific publisher, Wolters Kluwer. In September this year, this journal featured a paper written by three researchers-neurologists from Kortowo, Prof. Krzysztof Selmaj, the head of the Department of Neurology at the Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Marcin Mycko and Dr Anna Żurawska, also from this Department (in cooperation with Prof. Raine from the USA and Igor Selmaj from the Neurology Centre in Łódź). The title of the paper is “Multiple Sclerosis: circRNA Profile Defined Reveals Links to B-Cell Function“. The publication paves the way for the development of an effective treatment for this currently incurable disease. This is the first scientific publication on the subject in this journal, which means that Olsztyn scientists are getting closer to solving the mystery of this terrible condition.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a severe autoimmune disease – a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. It usually starts at a young age and ruthlessly destroys the body over the years, becoming a source of torment for people and even shortening their lives. The causes of MS have not been precisely determined. It is believed that the disease is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. However, as scientists have recently argued, B lymphocytes play a key role in its onset, since they become hyperactive and contribute to the development of characteristic lesions in the brain and spinal cord and, consequently, to the disease.

“The reasons for this hyperactivity of B lymphocytes are not known. This is the aspect we investigated, and this is the topic of our publication,” explains Prof. Selmaj.

These investigations were started by the neurologists from Kortowo about ten years ago. They already shared partial results of their research in 2019 in another American research journal, Journal of Neuroimmunology, published by Elsevier. The response to that article convinced them that they were on the right track towards a better understanding of the causes of multiple sclerosis.

“Our initial interest was not in B lymphocytes at all. We were particularly concerned with the study of the recently discovered so-called ‘circRNAs’, circular forms of RNA, which are particularly abundant in the brain. Circular RNAs affect the production of proteins with an important role in the biological processes of many cells. In our research, in which we applied the most recent molecular research methods and magnetic resonance techniques, we showed that in the blood cells of MS patients, several forms of circular RNAs are present in particularly high amounts, significantly higher than in healthy patients. None of these forms are present in the blood of a healthy person in such significant numbers,” explains Prof. Selmaj.

“The most significant element of our work consisted in demonstrating that the three circular RNAs we discovered may operate by altering the function of B lymphocytes, the cells that are responsible for the occurrence of MS. Our research has identified a molecular cause of B lymphocyte hyperactivity in MS. This may be of crucial importance for the development of therapies inhibiting B lymphocyte functions and, consequently, multiple sclerosis,” adds Prof. Marcin Mycko.

The paper in Neurology Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation thus explains what mechanism at the molecular level is responsible for the activation of B lymphocytes and, consequently, the onset of MS. The researchers submitted their article to the editorial board at the beginning of this year. Today, they are actually a step further beyond what they published in September.

“We are now investigating whether these three circular RNAs causing hyperactivity of B lymphocytes arise as a result of genetic errors or environmental influences,” adds Dr Anna Żurawska.

When they find this out, they will perhaps pave the way for the development of a drug that will block the onset of MS and not just alleviate its effects, as this is the only treatment currently available worldwide.

Lech Kryszałowicz

Prof. Krzysztof Selmaj – a neurologist, the Head of the Department of Neurology at the Faculty of Medicine of the UWM, focuses in his research on the pathogenesis of neurological autoimmune diseases, in particular, multiple sclerosis. Prof. Selmaj has served for many years as the President of the Polish Neurological Society and the Vice President of the European Federation of Neurology and belongs to the prestigious Top 2% of Scientists Worldwide list, according to the Stanford University rankings. He has also written more than 250 scientific papers on neurology and immunology.

Prof. Marcin Mycko – a neurologist, the Head the Neurology Clinic, the Chairman of the Scientific Council of the Medical Sciences discipline at the UWM, Member of the Board of the Polish Neurological Society, has managed more than ten scientific grants, financed, among others, by the National Science Centre, The National Centre for Research and Development, and the Polish-Swiss Research Programme. He has authored or co-authored more than 50 publications in foreign and Polish research journals and three scientific books. Last year, he was awarded an individual prize by the Minister of Science and Higher Education for innovative achievements in research work.

Dr Anna Żurawska – a neurologist with a master degree in psychology, is an employee of the Department of Neurology. In 2021, she defended with honours her doctoral thesis, entitled “The importance of circular RNAs (circRNAs) in the immunology of multiple sclerosis”. She has also managed a Preludium grant awarded by the National Science Centre.

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