Simple test for multiple sclerosis? Study

March 3, 2006 at 4:00 PM
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BALTIMORE, March 3 (UPI) -- A protein found in spinal fluid may form the basis for a simple test to detect people's risk of multiple sclerosis.

Johns Hopkins researchers said Friday that they have identified a protein found in cerebrospinal fluid that they say could be used in a test to identify a subgroup of patients with MS or identifying those at risk for the rare neurological disorder.

MS cannot currently be detected via a blood test or other test, the researchers noted.

Experts believe there may be several types of the disease and labs need a test that can distinguish among MS subtypes, they said.

"There is the possibility now that the protein we identified, 12.5 kDa cystatin, can be used to diagnose MS, perhaps in its earliest stages, and also to monitor treatment by measuring its levels in CSF," said Avindra Nath, M.D., professor in the Department of Neurology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

The Johns Hopkins researchers started with human CSF and found that the protein 12.5 kDa cystatin is actually a breakdown product of a larger protein called cystatin C or 13.4kDa, which in turn blocks activity of some enzymes, including cathepsin B.

Cathepsin B has been associated with MS's disease pathway, a breakdown of the myelin sheath, the covering of nerves along which electronic signals from the brain travel.

"Those patients who had more of the breakdown product of 12.5 kDa cystatin also seemed to have the highest cathepsin B inhibition," Nath said.

MS affects more than 10,000 people in the United States each year, most of whom are women. The disease's symptoms include weakness, paralysis, a loss of muscle coordination and problems with vision, speech and bladder control.

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