By studying interactions between testosterone and the immune system in male mice, scientists from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, have discovered a molecule that seems to protect against multiple sclerosis.
Could testosterone hold the key to halting MS?
In a paper on the findings that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team notes how the “guardian molecule” eliminated symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) in female mice.
“These findings,” says Melissa A. Brown, a professor of microbiology and immunology, “could lead to an entirely new kind of therapy for MS, which we greatly need.”
MS is a disease in which the immune system attacks myelin, or the protective sheath that surrounds nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord and ensures the integrity of the electrical signals that they carry.
Damage to the myelin sheath gives rise to a range of unpredictable symptoms, including impaired movement control, muscle weakness, pain, fatigue, disruption to sensory ability (such as blurred vision), and cognitive dysfunction. In some cases, MS can cause paralysis.
Women are more susceptible to MS
Estimates suggest that around 2.5 million people worldwide are living with MS, including between 300,000 and 400,000 in the United States. However, many experts believe that these numbers are too low.
In the paper, the team explains that women are much more susceptible to autoimmune diseases such as MS, and that differences in sex hormones are a “clear” influence.
In addition, women tend to develop the disease at a much younger age than men and are more prone to the relapsing-remitting form that flares up and then recedes.