A new ‘guardian molecule’ could hold the key to new treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS). Ever the cynic, I wanted to know a bit more about the research behind these bold statements.
Women are 3-4 times more likely than men to suffer from MS, and tend to do so at a much younger age. It is believed that one contributing factor to this is the hormone, testosterone. This idea is supported by the fact that men with MS also tend to have low levels of testosterone, and men tend to get diagnosed with MS as they age (when their testosterone levels start to drop).
What is testosterone?
It is the main male sex hormone causing a lower voice, thicker darker hair, larger muscles and an increased sex drive. Men tend to have about eight times more of it than women – and it has been shown to offer them some protection from autoimmune diseases like MS and rheumatoid arthritis. Scientists have known this for years, but they haven’t known how it works.
Until recently when researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago, looked at the role of hormones using a mouse model of MS called EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis). Just like in MS, these mice lose the protective wrapping around their nerves (myelin) and experience inflammation in the brain. The researches discovered that high levels of testosterone in male mice caused the production of a molecule called interleukin-33 (IL-33) that protected them. This is the new ‘guardian’ molecule reported in the headlines. Low levels of testosterone in female mice meant the guardian molecule was not produced – causing them to develop the MS like condition. According to the study, it is thought that this guardian molecule prevents the development of other immune cells that attack the myelin in MS.
What does this mean for us folk with MS? Is there a new treatment on the cards?
This research definitely sheds new light on the importance of hormones in our immune response but I don’t think that we should get too excited yet. This has only been demonstrated in one mouse model, and will need to be proven in human tests. Whilst this is an exciting discovery, the researchers themselves also concluded that this process alone would not be sufficient to protect against MS.
Do you feel hopeful?
You may also enjoy reading: 5 Ways To Make Your Home MS Friendly, Having The Best Sex Possible With Multiple Sclerosis and Cinnamon Helps To Suppress Symptoms.
Zoe lives in Sheffield, United Kingdom and is incredibly proud to work for the National Health Service. With a background in science, she enjoys keeping up to date on the latest research, and is keen to promote how we can use it to better educate ourselves about our disease and take ownership of our own health. Zoe would love it if we got to a place where people did not define themselves by their disabilities, but recognised that it was one tiny part of their wider self.
and please watch and share our MS Awareness video.
Role of Testosterone in MS Risk and Course http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1352458517737395
Top photo from Alpha Male. Bottom photo from John Hopkins.