Nerve cells, or neurons, have basically two sections. The long, stringy section is called the axon and the more circular, bulbous section is the cell body. The cell body is joined by a series of projections called dendrites. These dendrites receive nerve impulses from adjacent axons and, in turn, the neuron sends the wave down its own axon to the next cell. This rapid-fire electrochemical wave brings information into the brain through sensory neurons and sends commands out to the body through motor neurons to muscles and glands.
Many neurons are covered in a whitish-colored myelin sheath and are thereby said to be myelinated. This is what differentiates white matter from gray matter in the central nervous system. This myelin sheath is critical to the conductivity of the axon as it passes impulses through. In Multiple Sclerosis, the myelin sheath is attacked. This sheath is maintained and protected by special cells called oligodendrocytes. In Multiple Sclerosis these oligodendrocytes are damaged and cannot adequately maintain the sheath. When the myelin sheaths become damaged and degraded, the conductivity of the axons is severely impaired and loss of function occurs.
The cause of MS is believed to be an immune system-mediated response that involves genetics, environmental factors, and possibly infectious agents as well. The participation of the immune system places it under the broad heading of an autoimmune disorder.
Diagnosis depends on the patient’s symptoms, which most frequently include visual, motor, and sensory problems. This is then corroborated by the use of tools such as MRI to visually identify areas of demyelination. The use of evoked potentials, a test that quantifies the loss of conductivity along a nerve pathway, is often necessary.
There is no known cure for MS. Treatment often involves the use of corticosteroids, the interferons, and a number of disease-modifying therapies.
We at Plasma MedResearch, LLC are proud to provide biospecimens to the research community to aid in their efforts to find a cure for this disease.