Multiple sclerosis is a form of autoimmune disease that often causes irreversible impairments at different levels of the nervous system. At present, multiple sclerosis can neither be prevented, nor completely cured. However, the existing treatments are used to slow down the progression of the disease, prolong the periods of remission, ease the symptomatic flare-ups and prevent the development of further complications. The main factor responsible for the development of multiple sclerosis is inappropriate activity of the immune system.
While the normal immune system produces antibodies that fight against antigens (foreign infectious agents), in the case of multiple sclerosis the immune system becomes dysfunctional and turns against healthy body cells. The compromised immune system can no longer distinguish between healthy, normal cells and antigens, triggering repeated attacks on the body’s nervous system and destroying the nervous cells’ protective cover called myelin. The destruction of myelin (protein that has a series of vital roles at the level of the nervous system) determines serious impairments of the central nervous system and peripheral nerve tissues.
Myelin surrounds the axons, (filaments that are responsible with the transmission of electric impulses among nerve cells) facilitating the transmission of information between nervous cells. When the myelin cover is destroyed, the signals transmitted at the level of the nervous system are disrupted, thus causing a series of neurological symptoms in patients confronted with this type of disease. Although in the past medical scientists believed that multiple sclerosis only involves the destruction of myelin, recent medical investigations have revealed the fact that the axons are also attacked by the dysfunctional immune system.
Axon destruction begins in the incipient stages of multiple sclerosis and it is considered to be the main reason for the irreversible character of the disease. The spontaneous periods of remission experienced by most patients with multiple sclerosis are believed to occur not as a result of temporary decreased autoimmune response, but as a result of accentuated remyelination (repairing of the myelin) at the level of the nerve cells. However, the benefic effects of remyelination are later surpassed by the undesired actions of the immune system in the periods of relapse. Intrigued by the process of spontaneous remyelination that occurs in the periods of remission, medical scientists are currently working to stimulate and enhance this process at the level of the nerve cells in patients with multiple sclerosis. Extra stimulation of the nervous systems’ production of myelin, corroborated with immunosuppressive treatments may provide an efficient cure in the near future.