Scientists have long suspected that mitochondria, the energy-creating ‘powerhouse’ of the cell, plays a link in causing multiple sclerosis.
Using human brain tissue samples, researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Alberta found a protein called Rab32 is present in large quantities in the brains of people with MS but is virtually absent in healthy brain cells.
Where Rab32 is present, the team discovered that a part of the cell which stores calcium gets too close to the mitochondria.
The resulting miscommunication with the calcium supply triggers the mitochondria to misbehave, ultimately causing toxicity for brain cells in people with MS.
Researchers do not yet know what causes an unwelcome influx of Rab32 but they believe the defect could originate at the base of the cell.
The finding will enable scientists to search for effective treatments that target Rab32 and embark on determining whether there are other proteins which could pay a role in triggering MS.
Professor Paul Eggleton, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Multiple sclerosis can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, affecting mobility, speech, mental ability and more.
“So far, all medicine can offer is treatment and therapy for the symptoms — as we do not yet know the precise causes, research has been limited.
“Our exciting new findings have uncovered a new avenue for researchers to explore. It is a critical step, and in time, we hope it might lead to effective new treatments for MS,” he said.