Effects of cigarette smoking in MS

Start Term
End Term
April 1, 2025
Funding Amount
St. Michael’s Hospital
Geographic Region(s) / Province(s)
Research Priorities
Cause of MS
Impact Goal(s)
Prevent MS


  • Cigarette smoking is a known risk factor for MS, however how it causes MS is not well understood and is difficult to study in humans.  
  • Dr. Shannon Dunn and team aim to develop a mouse model that can be used for future studies to uncover the underlying mechanisms of cigarette smoking in MS development. 
  • Understanding how risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, contribute to MS will be important in developing strategies to prevent MS. 

Project Description:

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of MS. People who smoke have a higher risk of developing MS compared to those that do not smoke and are more likely to develop progressive disease compared to non-smokers. How cigarette smoking affects MS however is not known.

Dr. Shannon Dunn and team aim to develop an animal model in which cigarette smoking enhances the development of MS-like disease in mice. This model will be used to determine the underlying mechanisms of how cigarette smoking leads to autoimmunity, which occurs when the immune system attacks its own brain cells, or how it leads to disease progression in MS. 

The researchers will first study how cigarette smoking affects the lungs and whether lung inflammation as a result of cigarette smoking attracts and activates specific immune cells called autoreactive T cells. Autoreactive T cells are immune cells that are normally inactive in healthy people but become activated in people with MS. These cells inappropriately recognize myelin and lead to the onset of MS. The researchers will then examine whether cigarette smoking induces the onset of MS in mice or increases the chances of developing MS in response to infection.

Potential Impact: This study will provide a foundation from which to understand how cigarette smoking is involved in MS onset and progression. 

Project Status: In Progress