Diabetes, MS Similarities Could Yield Treatments

In findings that could have implications for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers have found similarities between the aberrant immune reactions that trigger the degenerative disease and those behind one type of diabetes.

Insulin-dependent diabetes can be triggered when the immune system attacks healthy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and MS is caused by a similar "autoimmune" reaction that attacks myelin, which insulates nerve cells.

Besides targeting myelin, immune system cells from MS patients frequently attacked molecules associated with diabetes. They based their findings on an analysis of 38 patients with MS, 54 newly diagnosed children with diabetes and 105 of their relatives, and 34 healthy controls.

Similarly, the immune cells from about two-thirds of diabetes patients and their close relatives at high risk of developing diabetes also targeted at least one MS-associated molecule.

Thus autoimmunity in diabetes and MS targets a similar set of self-proteins, with neither disease nor tissue selectivity.

A major, multi-center initiative with several US centers to seek out evidence for pre-MS is being developed.

Journal of Immunology 2001;166:2831-2841.