Our long-term goal is to define and characterize the mechanisms underlying tissue injury in multiple sclerosis (MS), the most common demyelinating disease of the central nervous system in humans. In recent years, oxidative stress has been implicated in the pathophysiology of both MS and its animal model, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Previous studies from our laboratory have shown that MS and EAE, like several other neurological disorders, are characterized by the accumulation of carbonylated (oxidized) proteins within CNS cells. We have also demonstrated that the build-up of oxidized and other misfolded proteins in these disorders is a consequence of decreased activity of the proteasome, the proteolytic machinery responsible for their removal. Carbonylation and other oxidative protein modifications are known to cause inappropriate inter- and intra-protein cross-links as well as protein misfolding. This, in turn, results in the formation of protein aggregates that we believe contribute to the demise of neural cells and ultimately tissue damage. Indeed, we have obtained preliminary evidence that aggregates containing oxidized proteins accumulate in the CNS of MS patients and EAE mice and that inhibition of protein aggregation prevents neuronal cell death in culture. Based on these novel findings, we hypothesize that protein aggregation plays a pathogenic role in EAE. To test this idea, we will (1) quantify the temporal/spatial pattern of protein aggregation and its relationship to the extent of neuronal and oligodendroglial cell death in the spinal cord during the course of MOG peptide-induced EAE, and (2) examine the prophylactic and therapeutic efficacy of two chemically- distinct protein aggregation inhibitors at preventing cell death and tissue injury and at reducing neurological symptoms of EAE. If successful, these studies will not only demonstrate that protein aggregation is pathogenic in inflammatory demyelinating disease but also will provide the basis for developing new or testing previously identified non-toxic aggregation inhibitors for an improved clinical management of MS.

Public Health Relevance

Multiple sclerosis (MS), the most common neurological disorder affecting young adults, is characterized by CNS inflammation, demyelination, axonal degeneration, and neuronal and oligodendrocyte cell death. Preliminary data from our laboratory suggest that protein aggregates, which are known to be cytotoxic, accumulate in the brains of MS patients. Using a mouse model of MS, we will determine whether drugs that reduce protein aggregation can effectively prevent neuronal/oligodendrocyte cell death and tissue damage, and ultimately reduce the neurological deficits. If successful, this proof-of-principle study could lead to the development of a new strategy to treat MS.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Clinical Neuroimmunology and Brain Tumors Study Section (CNBT)
Program Officer
Utz, Ursula
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center
Anatomy/Cell Biology
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code