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Current Funded Research > New York

Murali Ramanathan, PhD
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY
NMSS Area: W. New York/N.W. Penn. Chapter
Award: Research Grant
Term/Amount: 10/1/05-9/30/08; $646,755

“Brain-derived neurotrophic factor in multiple sclerosis” The possible role of a protein in susceptibility to cognitive deficits in persons with MS.

Many individuals with MS will experience some form of cognitive impairment, mainly difficulties with memory, concentration, and complex problem-solving, at some point in their lives. However, the degree of impairment varies widely among individuals. Murali Ramanathan, PhD, is investigating whether a genetic variation that affects the function of a brain protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) contributes to the severity of cognitive dysfunction in people with MS, thus accounting for variations in cognitive ability associated with the disease.

BDNF is produced in the brain and also by immune cells, and it appears capable of influencing the survival and function of nerve cells and regulating the production of myelin, the nerve fiber insulation attacked by immune cells in MS. BDNF also plays important roles in the biological processes underlying learning and memory. Individuals with MS carrying a particular form of the BDNF genetic variation appear to make more of the protein from immune cells and also appear to have less severe cognitive impairments than those with another form of genetic variation. To test these assumptions, Dr. Ramanathan is comparing the extent of cognitive deficits, severity of disease activity, and levels of BDNF in individuals with MS with different forms of the genetic variation.

Establishing the role of BDNF and its genetic variations in MS will lead to a better understanding of the factors causing cognitive deficits in MS and enable evaluation of therapeutic approaches to reduce or prevent such deficits.