Scientists at UNIGE are demonstrating how cold could alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis by depriving the immune system of its energy.
In evolutionary biology, the “Life History Theory”, first proposed in the 1950s, postulates that when the environment is favourable, the resources used by any organism are devoted for growth and reproduction. Conversely, in a hostile environment, resources are transferred to so-called maintenance programmes, such as energy conservation and defence against external attacks. Scientists at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) developed this idea to a specific field of medicine: the erroneous activation of the immune system that causes autoimmune diseases. By studying mice suffering from a model of multiple sclerosis, the research team succeeded in deciphering how exposure to cold pushed the organism to divert its resources from the immune system towards maintaining body heat. Indeed, during cold, the immune system decreased its harmful activity which considerably attenuated the course of the autoimmune disease. These results, highlighted on the cover of the journal Cell Metabolism, pave the way for a fundamental biological concept on the allocation of energy resources.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body own organs. Type 1 diabetes, for example, is caused by the erroneous destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic cells. Multiple sclerosis is the most common autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (consisting of the brain and spinal cord). The disease is characterised by the destruction of the myelin, which is a protective insulation of nerve cells and is important for the correct and fast transmission of electrical signals. Its destruction thus leads to neurological disability, including paralysis.
Release date: 22 October 2021
Source: Université de Genève