The immunology of multiple sclerosis

Published on July 30, 2020   20 min

Other Talks in the Series: The Immune System - Key Concepts and Questions

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My name is Joanne Jones. I'm a Consultant Immunologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. I also run an immunology research group at the University. The aim of my talk is to give you an overview on the immunology of multiple sclerosis.
What is multiple sclerosis? Well, multiple sclerosis can be best defined as an auto-immune demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. Autoimmune refers to the fact that it's caused by the patient's own immune system mistakenly attacking cell. In particular, what the immune system attacks in multiple sclerosis is myelin, which is a fatty substance that surrounds the axons of nerves protecting them and enabling them to conduct electrical impulses efficiently. When we talk to patients about multiple sclerosis, what it is and what myelin is, it's often helpful to ask them to think of it as being similar to the protective plastic outer coating of electrical wires where the wire is equivalent to the axon. In multiple sclerosis, protective coating is damaged and the myelin is stripped from the nerve. In other words the nerves become demyelinated. Myelin is produced by oligodendrocytes which is specialized cells within the central nervous system and by that I mean the brain and the spinal cord. MS affects approximately 2.5 million people worldwide. It's a major cause of disability in young adults particularly women, as women are affected three times more commonly than men. It also has significant personal and socioeconomic costs as the average age of onset is 30 years. Approximately 25 years after diagnosis, 50 percent of individuals require permanent use of a wheelchair. It's a very serious and life altering condition.