The highlight of ECTRIMs was the talk by the famous pathologist Prof John Prineas (Sydney, Australia), who was awarded the prestigious Charcot Prize for his unique contributions to the pathology of MS. The prize is named after the famous French neurologist also called “the Napoleon of the neuroses”. He was the first to describe multiple sclerosis as a distinct disease entity.
This talk highlighted the “astrocyte lesion” in neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and multiple sclerosis. NMO has been historically considered a subtype of MS and an autoimmune disease targeting astrocytes – star-shaped glial cells in the brain and spinal cord. Anti-aquaporin-4 antibodies, which are directed against this astrocytic water channel, are involved in the disease pathogenesis and used as diagnostic markers. Similar degenerative changes were also found in astrocytic endfeet in early MS lesions and Prof Prineas put forward the hypothesis that MS may not be a disease exclusively of oligodendrocytes and myelin, and suggested that future work should also focus on astrocytes.
One “hot topic session” of the conference was dedicated to Th17 cells. This cytokine was recently discovered and found to play a role MS and other autoimmune diseases. It is now known that axons express the IL-17 receptor and we saw very elegant experiments, using live cell imaging, looking at the trafficking capacity of these cells, which were found in close proximity to axons. This poses interesting questions about the pathogenic role of Th17 cells in MS.
Ute Meier, Post-doctoral Scientist