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Aging and Multiple Sclerosis

Color-enhanced image of two myelinated nerve fibers.
 Pictured above: Color-enhanced image of two myelinated nerve fibers. The individual axons sit within their surrounding myelin sheaths (green) and are packed with energy producing mitochondria. The myelin provides a layer of electrical insulation made up of lipids (fats) and proteins produced by Schwann cells. Image courtesy of David Furness, Wellcome Collection.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the brain and spinal cord in which the immune system attacks the protective sheaths covering nerve fibers, leading to communications problems between the brain and rest of body.

 The cause of MS is unknown, but aging is considered the most relevant factor associated with the clinical course of the disease. In very young patients, MS is relapsing and remitting (periods of worsening symptoms followed by recovery), but in later onset disease, MS progresses rapidly toward permanent disability.

 In a review published online October 7, 2022 in The Lancet Neurology, Jennifer Graves, MD, PhD, neurologist and associate professor neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and co-authors explore the role of aging in immune and neural cell function in patients with MS, suggesting that therapies that target senescent cells (which have grown dysfunctional with age, but have not died) may point the way to restorative therapies able to reverse and perhaps cure MS.

— Scott LaFee