Multiple sclerosis is often thought of as more of a female disease. This is because women are twice or even three times as likely to develop multiple sclerosis compared to men. This gender difference has led researchers to explore the influence of sex hormones in this disease.
Testosterone – which men typically have in higher amounts than found in women – is thought to play a role in this autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord. New research in animal models suggests that the presence of testosterone can lead to a “guardian molecule” patrolling the body. This guardian molecule is an immune compound called cytokine IL-33 that can prevent damage to the myelin sheath. In the animal research, myelin damage was even reversed by the presence of this guardian molecule. This is exciting, since myelin sheath damage leads to the movement problems and cognitive symptoms of multiple sclerosis in humans.
While it is not viable to increase testosterone levels in all women, it is possible to work on ways to activate the guardian molecule. This is an interesting new area of multiple sclerosis research that could bring real benefits in the near future to multiple sclerosis patients.
While a potential new treatment for MS related to understanding testosterone continues to be developed, there are numerous medications for this disease that are already available, including Ocrevus which was discussed this this recent blog: A Look Back at 2017’s FDA Approvals.
Russi AE, el al, Male-specific IL-33 expression regulates sex-dimorphic EAE susceptibility. PNAS 2018 www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1710401115