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Currently, basic research at the MS Center of OHSU focuses on the role of lipoic acid (LA) in the body's immune system. Past experiments have shown that LA plays a significant role in decreasing the inflammation of neuronal tissue. This inflammation is the cause of many of the side effects and relapses that are seen in MS patients. At this time, basic research is concentrating on finding the intra-cellular pathways as well as the limitations of using LA to suppress the immune system's natural responses (i.e.: inflammation) without causing further side effects. Hopefully, in the future this will be an applicable medication for MS patients to help alleviate some of their symptoms.

Defining the anti-inflammatory role of lipoic acid in Multiple Sclerosis 

The goal of these studies is to define the cellular mechanisms that use and produce antioxidant lipoic acid (LA). This study will be conducted in the basic science laboratory as well as with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients and healthy controls. We will study the effects of LA on the production of IL-17 and other cytokines which are protein molecules that are involved in differentiation and activation of T helper (Th17) cells. Previous experiments have shown that mice with excess Th17 cells, had increased levels of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) symptoms. In addition, mice lacking Th17 cells did not develop any autoimmune pathology. In humans, increased IL-17 levels have been detected in patients with multiple sclerosis, as well as other auto-immune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory colitis and rheumatoid arthritis. By measuring the cytokine levels in the blood before and after LA ingestion, we hope to link a relationship between LA and a decrease in inflammation of nerve fibers.

We are also interested in studying the effects of LA on endothelial cells, which is the major component of the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB), and the ability of immune cells to migrate across the BBB. One of the precluding symptoms of MS is the capability for T helper cells to cross the BBB.  We intend to evaluate the likelihood that LA will limit the migration of immune cells (like helper T) to cross the BBB. This will first be done in our basic research laboratory before being performed in animals or patients.

To date, we discovered that LA stimulates cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) production in immune cells and endothelial cells. CAMP is a cellular second messenger that is known to aid in suppressing the body's immune system. The fact that LA induces cAMP production and suppresses immune system response in the central nervous system is significant for MS research because altering immune cell function has been a therapeutic approach for the treatment of MS and other inflammatory diseases. We hope that future studies of LA will lead us to be able to safely suppress the symptoms of MS in humans.

The Tykeson Multiple Sclerosis Research Laboratory

The Tykeson Multiple Sclerosis Research Laboratory  is located in the OHSU Mark O. Hatfield Research Center.  It is dedicated to studying how the immune system causes MS and developing new treatments aimed at controlling disease causing white blood cells. Immunologists, neuroscientists and molecular biologists work together toward the common goal of ultimately curing MS. The laboratory is named in honor of Donald Tykeson and his family who helped establish the laboratory with a generous gift.


The Neuroimmunology Research Laboratories

The Neuroimmunology Research Laboratories are located at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Immunologists, neuroscientists and molecular biologists work together on a variety of projects answering fundamental questions important to advancing our knowledge of how the immune system causes MS and on how to protect nerves from damage in MS.