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From The MS Information Sourcebook, produced by the National MS Society.

MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease-that is, the symptoms are believed to occur when the immune system "turns against" the self. This type of autoimmune response causes inflammation and ultimately destruction of myelin, the insulating material that is wrapped around the nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord, as well as of the nerve fibers themselves. This tissue damage causes the signals that are transmitted through the central nervous system to be slowed, garbled, or blocked, causing symptoms to develop.

To understand what causes MS and how to overcome it, researchers focus on many different avenues of investigation, including:

  • Immunology: exploring the role of the body's complex immune system in the development, progression and possible suppression of MS;

  • Myelin Biology/CNS Repair: investigating ways to restore nerve function by studying glial cells that produce myelin, and by exploring other factors that play a role in tissue health and repair in the central nervous system;

  • Infectious Triggers: examining the possibility that viruses or bacteria could act as disease triggers in MS;

  • Gender Differences: searching for clues to the cause and better treatment of MS by studying how it affects men and women differently;

  • Genetics: hunting for multiple genes that may make people susceptible to developing MS;

  • Neuropathology/Neurophysiology: exploring the fundamental workings of nerve cells and how they become damaged during MS;

  • Health Care Delivery & Policy: studying how people with MS utilize health-care services and how health-care delivery can be improved.

  • Therapy/Rehabilitation of MS: investigations into treatments of possible value in fighting different forms of MS and improving quality of life;

The pace of MS research is accelerating. New drugs and therapeutic interventions are currently being developed as a result of knowledge gained though long years of basic research. Many new therapies are now being tested for their effectiveness and safety in people with MS.

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Last updated March 2006