Posted July 15, 2014
Maria Irene Givogri, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Chicago

Drs. Givogri and Monyano MS is a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that leads to damage to the myelin (demyelination) of nerve cells, which results in disruptions in the ability of nerves to communicate with one another. As the disease progresses, patients gradually lose the ability to repair damaged nerves, causing the physical and/or mental disabilities associated with MS. The mechanisms associated with the failure to repair the damaged myelin in MS are unknown but are thought to involve many factors including defective differentiation of neural stem cells and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells into mature oligodendrocytes (the cells responsible for myelin repair). Current methods for the diagnosis of MS can involve the evaluation of physical symptoms and imaging of the CNS. While blood tests can be used to rule out other diseases, none can yet confirm a diagnosis of MS.

In FY10, Dr. Maria Irene Givogri received an Idea Award from the MSRP to determine whether sulfatides - a class of glycolipids that have been shown to be in abundance in the myelin of nerves and thought to play a major role in the upkeep of myelin - could be used to identify demyelination related to MS. While sulfatides are known to be important regulators of autoimmunity, their presence in the plasma of MS patients had not yet been studied. With MSRP support, Dr. Givogri and her group compared sulfatide levels in the plasma of 14 Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) patients to 14 healthy controls and observed potentially clinically relevant results. Plasma levels of specific types of sulfatides correlated with the severity of the patient's relapse as defined by the Expanded Disability Status Scale for MS patients and also with the age and time since the patient's last relapse. These findings suggest that plasma levels of sulfatides may reflect demyelination damage associated with MS attacks and may serve as a potential biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis in MS. With recent reports showing higher incidence rates of MS in the military population, the importance of improved diagnostics is critical for the timely detection and treatment of MS.

Dr. Givogri and her group continues their research through this award to better understand the release of sulfatides from myelin after MS attacks and their role as a regulator of myelin repair in MS. Their goals are to determine how sulfatides affect the growth and regulation of the cells responsible for myelin repair to better understand the loss of myelin repair associated with MS. With this information they not only want to find better methods for diagnosing MS but also find potential therapies for people suffering from MS.

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