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Diagnosis of MS could be improved by new marker

According to a news release from the Technical University Munich, diagnosing MS is difficult even for veteran neurologists. This disease has numerous symptoms and seldom shows a consistent clinical picture. However, new findings on the immune response involved in MS could now help enhance the diagnosis of this debilitating disease.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society notes that MS is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is comprised of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms range from mild, numbness in the limbs, to severe, paralysis or loss of vision.

Researchers examining the blood of MS patients have found antibodies that attack a specific potassium channel in the cell membrane. Potassium channels have a significant role in relating impulses to muscle and nerve cells. These processes, researchers say, are frustrated in MS patients.

“We found this autoantibody in almost half of the MS patients in our study,” says Bernhard Hemmer, Professor of Neurology at Technical University Munich.

According to the researchers, the biomarker was not present in healthy patients. The results imply that KIR4.1, the potassium channel that the antibody bonds with, is one of the targets of the autoimmune response in MS. People without the KIR4.1 channel deal with neurological failure and cannot coordinate their motions properly. In addition, their bodies do not produce satisfactory quantities of myelin, a layer of insulation that safeguards the nerve cells.

The researchers plan on conducting follow-up studies into how KIR4.1 antibodies influence the development of MS.  “This autoantibody could improve diagnosis of MS and help us differentiate it more clearly from other neurological diseases,” adds Hemmer.

The findings are described in greater detail in the New England Journal of Medicine.