From T to B: Understanding immune cells in MS

Over the past decade, researchers have made substantial progress in understanding how the immune system misbehaves in multiple sclerosis. Research has uncovered parts of the immune system that can be controlled by therapies to improve health, most notably a type of white blood cell known as the T cell.

Blood cells in circulation

Recent clinical trials, however, have revealed surprising results: when B cells, another type of white blood cell, are specifically targeted and removed from the immune system, people living with MS experience significant reduction in relapses. This fresh evidence challenges the conventional knowledge that MS is an exclusively T cell-driven disease.

Lymphocyte (b cell)

Here’s what we know and what we still need to find out about B cells:

Current knowledge

Gaps in knowledge

Therapies that selectively deplete B cells lead to dramatic decreases in new MS relapsesIdentification of “good” B cells vs. “bad” B cells is needed to develop therapies that target the correct cells
B cells in people with MS can abnormally produce molecules that promote inflammationThe method by which B cells enter the central nervous system to cause damage to myelin and surrounding tissues
B cells in people with MS can trigger abnormal T cell responsesClarification on the role of B cells in progressive MS
B cells are sometimes found in inflamed brain tissue of people with progressive MS, which suggests they may contribute to disease progression and subsequent worsening of disabilityThe details behind B cell and T cell interaction, and how this interaction influences MS

The MS Society is investing in B cell research. For more information on B cells, read Dr. Karen Lee's interview with Dr. Amit Bar-Or on her blog.