Scientists discovered that alphaB-crystallin can reverse paralysis but instead the immune system attacks it, worsening the symptoms.

alphaB-crystallin, a protein found primarily in the lens of the eye, can reverse paralysis when injected in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine report.

alphaB-crystallin is not normally found in the brain but develops in response to the injuries inflicted on nerve cells by multiple sclerosis. For reasons not yet understood, the immune system considers the expression of the alphaB-crystallin protein in the brain a danger signal and attacks this healing substance.

“Like a runaway truck careening down a mountain and then having the brakes fall off, the immune attack against alphaB-crystallin worsens the situation,” says Lawrence Steinman, M.D., professor of neurology and neurological sciences. And remarkably, he notes, addition of that protein works like restoring the failing brakes, returning control.

When they gave injections of the protein to mice with the equivalent of MS, their paralysis was reversed. The protein restored order by suppressing the cellular processes causing the damage. Dr. Steinman speculated that the mechanism is tolerization, similar to the process used in allergy shots when a person with an allergy gets an injection of the protein that is causing problems for the body so it can learn to ignore it.

Once the researchers had a grasp of what was occurring in mice, they turned to humans. Using a collection of spinal fluid samples, Dr. Steinman’s team tested them on their antibody arrays. They found that the highest antibody response was directed against alphaB-crystallin, leading the researchers to speculate that the protein could possibly reverse the damage in humans as it does in mice.

Their findings were published in the June 13 advance online edition of Nature.

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