Exploring the role of metals in multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a devastating disease that attacks the nervous system and causes a wide range of symptoms including chronic pain, numbness and debilitating muscle weakness. Some people living with MS suffer vision problems, including blindness, while others lose the ability to think clearly and experience mood swings. Canada has some of the highest incidence of MS in the world and effective treatments remain elusive.
Dr. Bogdan Popescu, Canada Research Chair in Multiple Sclerosis Research, is combining tissue preparation and microscopy techniques with the power of synchrotron light (a source of brilliant light) to explore the role of metals in the health of oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes are specialized cells that manufacture myelin, the insulation for the “wiring” of our nervous system. In MS, these myelin sheaths are destroyed, interfering with nerve signals.
Iron, copper and zinc are known to be essential for creating and maintaining myelin—and oligodendrocytes have the highest metal content of all nerve cells. Popescu believes that disrupting metal metabolism in these crucial cells will impair them to carry on their main function—maintaining the nerves’ myelin sheaths, which will quickly degrade. About a quarter of MS cases may involve this process.
Popescu’s research in metal metabolism could lead to identification of possible targets for new drugs and treatments for MS.