MS is a chronic, life-long, disease which has no cure. In patients with MS, the protective layer that coats the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord (called myelin) is damaged by the body’s own immune system. This damage hinders the ability of the nerve cells to transmit signals. MS is progressive, unpredictable and varies extensively between individuals, resulting in a broad spectrum of symptoms including physical, mental, and psychiatric problems depending on which areas of the brain or spinal cord are affected.
Although significant advances in treatment have been made, not all patients are responsive to all therapies and there is no method for predicting which patients will respond best to each treatment. Many patients must trial several treatments before they are able to find one they are able to tolerate and that works well to dampen their disease. Additionally, how these therapies actually help MS patients at a cellular level is often poorly understood.
Our lab is interested in a field of study called epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to changes to how cells interpret the information coded in our DNA without changing the DNA code itself (as opposed to mutations which actually change the DNA code). In a preliminary study, we isolated blood cells (which are part of the immune system) from MS patients and healthy controls. In these samples, we discovered significant changes in the epigenetics of MS patients compared to healthy controls. Specifically, we found changes in one type of epigenetic marker called DNA methylation. We would now like to investigate if these epigenetic profiles can be altered by current MS treatments.
The overall aim of this study is to investigate the changes that happen to the immune system during the course of 2 commonly used MS treatments.
Aim 1 of this study is to investigate epigenetic patterns using blood cells from patients before and after treatment with two of the most commonly used MS therapies. We will do this using the same techniques and analysis methods we developed for our first pilot study.
Aim2 is to determine if these epigenetics patterns can alter the way the patient’s immune cells interpret the DNA code. This will provide information on how some of these therapies may work and provide a basis for new and/or improved therapies in the future.