The trigger for #multiplesclerosis could be completely different to what scientists have believed, say Australian researchers who made the breakthrough discovery that could overturn decades of MS research. Their work, which suggests the past 40 years of MS research has been looking at the wrong parts of the central nervous system, could eventually lead to new treatments.

About 15,000 Australians have MS, which is a notoriously difficult disease to diagnose and treat. Up until now it was thought to begin with the disintegration of protective coverings around neurons in the central nervous system, although why that occurred was not known. John Prineas and his colleague John Parratt discovered that before the protective coverings disintegrate other vital cells, known as astrocytes, die. 

"Astrocytes are very common and important cells … their role in the central nervous system is basically to look after everything else," Professor Prineas, from the University of Sydney, said. Earlier research by Vanda Lennon, an Australian working at the Mayo Clinic in the US, had discovered an antibody which attacked astrocytes in a subtype of MS called neuromyelitis optica, but up until now it had not been shown astrocytes were damaged in patients who had died with MS or neuromyelitis optica.

"There is the possibility that the discovery … of that antibody may turn out to be the most important breakthrough in the last 40 years or so," Professor Prineas said.
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