Researchers at the Universidad de Oviedo, Spain, have taken a major step forward in the fight against multiple sclerosis (MS), by demonstrating both genetic and pharmaceutical evidence for the role of a protein called collagenase-2 in the development of the debilitating disease.
According to the research team, led by Carlos Lopez-Otin, their findings can provide potential new target for multiple sclerosis therapy.
Collagenase-2 is a member of a protein family called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs, collagenase-2 is MMP8), which is a large group of enzymes that break down collagen and other components of the body's connective tissue.
MMPs are responsible to cause MS by degrading the tissue that maintains the blood-brain barrier, thus making it possible for unwanted cells to invade and break down nerves. Besides, increased amounts of MMPs are found in the blood and spinal fluid of diseased individuals.
Using a mouse model of MS, Lopez-Otin and colleagues performed two analyses on MMP8 to determine how relevant this protein is to the disease.
Initially, mutant mice deficient in the gene for MMP8 was developed and it was found that these mice had a fewer invading cells in the brain, fewer damaged nerves, and a general improvement in their clinical profile.
In fact, the researchers also gave diseased mice a drug that blocked MMP8 activity and found that this, too, could reduce the severity of disease symptoms.
These findings, when taken together, provide the first causal evidence for MMP8 in the development of MS, and offer a new therapeutic target, the researchers said.
The study appears in JBC online on March 28.