Newly observed immune cell interaction may lead to more therapies for MS

Researchers have discovered new interactions between immune cells in the central nervous system and ones from the blood that could pave the way for more treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological conditions.

The study saw scientists use a new technique to differentiate between blood immune cells called macrophages, and microglial cells. Macrophages produce inflammatory properties which contribute to myelin deterioration. Microglial cells are immune cells specific to the central nervous system. It has previously been tricky to tell the two apart but in this study, the researchers were able to genetically label the two and tell them apart when they entered the myelin.

The researchers were then surprised to witness the microglial cells seemingly defending the body against the macrophages. They surrounded and encapsulated the macrophages, preventing them from dispersing into areas they shouldn’t be. The authors likened the process to police at a riot.

They also observed that microglia cells continued to multiply and over time the macrophages began dying naturally.

The interactions between these types of immune cells is unique to the central nervous system because when injuries happen in the peripheral nervous systems – areas not in the brain or spinal cord – the macrophage cells multiplied more than the microglial ones, researchers found.

The scientists also discovered they could identify at least two different populations of microglial cells. They said that by understanding how each type of cell responds to demyelination, they hope they will be able to develop new therapies to stop the process and repair damaged cells in the future.