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Blood-Clotting Protein May Offer Early Detection of Multiple Sclerosis—Neuroscience 2013

A protein involved in blood clotting may be a new indicator to help detect multiple sclerosis (MS) lesions before symptoms arise. The presence of the clotting protein, thrombin, signals an early stage of the disease when the blood-brain barrier is breached and the brain’s immune response is set into motion. The research was presented at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. 30,000 scientists are attending this meeting. “Our research shows this indicator is a promising approach for detecting MS-like lesions early, even before major symptoms appear,” said senior author Katerina Akassoglou, Ph.D., of the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco. “Such sensitive indicators could act as red flags that signal neuroinflammatory changes in the brain not only in MS, but also in other diseases such as Alzheimer’s.” MS is a debilitating disorder that can be intermittent or progressive, and causes numbness, fatigue, difficulty walking, paralysis, and loss of vision in 2 million people worldwide. MS arises when the body’s immune system attacks its own myelin sheaths, the protective coverings that surround neurons and allow signals to move from one cell to the next. The researchers found that thrombin, usually a beneficial protein involved in blood clotting, builds up in the central nervous system as MS progresses. Thrombin enters in the brain together with fibrinogen, another clotting protein when the protective barrier between the blood and brain becomes leaky. Thrombin converts the fibrinogen to fibrin which activates brain’s immune cells that break down the protective myelin sheath that surrounds neurons in the central nervous system. Because thrombin levels increase as the disease progresses, the researchers conclude that it could be used as an early detector of the disease. In their studies, the researchers used a mouse model and demonstrated that MS symptoms increased as thrombin levels rose. Early detection of MS could result in more successful treatment of the disease. Research was supported with funds from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis, and the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Akassoglou outlined her findings in a press conference held on Sunday, November 10, and this summary was distributed with the press release. The scientific presentation of Dr. Akassoglou’s work will be delivered on Monday, Novermber 11. Neuroscience 2013 continues through Wednesday, November 13. [Society for Neuroscience program] [Society for Neuroscience 2013 meeting]