Battle of the Sexes: Why Are Women More Susceptible to MS?
It is well known that multiple sclerosis is much more common in women than it is in men. In fact, females are four times more likely to have MS. This is a staggering difference and one that has made many scientists explore what it is that makes women so much more susceptible. Understanding this key concept may help unlock what causes multiple sclerosis, which is a question that still remains largely unanswered.
Brain differences between men and women with MS
A recent discovery uncovered a difference between the brains of men and women with multiple sclerosis and may help to explain the role that gender plays in developing MS. The research study was done at Washington University’s School of Medicine and was recently published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. The scientists hope that a newly discovered genetic difference between the male and the female brain may hold some answers about why women are more susceptible to MS, and why men seem to have better protection against developing the disease.
The significance of the S1PR2 protein
In the study, researchers examined the blood-brain barrier of mice and human subjects, both male and female, who had multiple sclerosis. When they compared the brains of males and females with MS, they found higher levels of a protein called S1PR2 in the females. Additionally, they discovered that the levels of S1PR2 were highest in the areas of the brain which are targeted by MS. This highly suggests that S1PR2 plays a role in MS-related inflammation and damage.
But what is S1PR2 exactly?
S1PR2 is a receptor protein found in blood vessels of the central nervous system. Proteins are essential molecules and they are involved in almost every process within our bodies. There are hundreds of thousands of proteins in the human body, and each one has its own job. The S1PR2 receptor protein is found in the blood vessels in the central nervous system, which are a part of the blood-brain barrier.
What's the blood-brain-barrier?
The blood-brain barrier is exactly what it sounds like, a protective barrier between the blood vessels and the delicate tissues of the brain. It serves to keep out harmful infections, cells, and chemicals that could damage the brain. The barrier is maintained by very tight junctions which only allow certain materials to pass through. In MS patients the blood-brain-barrier becomes “leaky” allowing immune cells to pass through into the brain. These immune cells then attack the myelin around nerves and lead to inflammation and lesions. The main role of S1PR2 is to control the flow of immune cells in the blood vessels of the brain. The theory of this study is that high levels of S1PR2 result in an influx of immune cells, which leads to inflammation and demyelination in the central nervous system.
How this research can help with MS treatments
Ordinarily, the blood-brain-barrier serves to protect the delicate brain tissues from harmful cells. In MS patients, this barrier becomes “leaky” allowing immune cells to cross over and start attacking myelin. Finding out what causes the blood-brain barrier to become leaky would allow us to potentially prevent MS, or maybe even reverse the process. If S1PR2 does play a role in inflammation, it could be possible to develop a medication that negates its effects.
Finding genetic differences could be key
Ultimately, finding genetic differences between the female and the male brain could be very important in helping us understand why women get MS at a much higher rate. Finding the cause of MS is especially difficult because there are many complicated factors involved, but it is of the utmost importance. Chemotherapy was developed after we figured out how to identify and target cancer cells. Similarly, solving the mystery of how MS develops would allow us to treat it more effectively, and maybe even prevent it from developing in the first place.1,2
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