Investigating How Obesity May Lead to Autoimmunity in MS
Year Awarded: 2022
Term: 3 years
Funding Amount: $299,568
Affiliation(s): St. Michael’s Hospital
Researcher(s): Dr. Shannon Dunn
Impact Goal(s): Understand and Halt Disease Progression
- Being overweight as an adolescent is associated with an increased risk of MS in females. Previous work from Dr. Shannon Dunn’s research team discovered that obese female mice with MS like disease develop a more severe disease course and exhibit increased levels of pro-inflammatory T cells.
- In this research study, the team will characterize the biological pathway in which obesity enhances T cell autoimmune activity in the central nervous system and identify specific factors that may be involved in the disease process.
- This research has the potential to identify new ways of preventing MS or intervening with MS disease process through lifestyle changes or by developing new treatments that target obesity pathways.
Adolescent obesity is associated with an increased risk of MS in females. Using mice with MS-like disease (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis or EAE), Dr. Shannon Dunn and team discovered that obese female mice develop a more severe disease course compared to non-obese controls and an increase in pro-inflammatory “T helper 1” cells, which are immune cells involved in MS pathology. In this study, the research team will use EAE mice to further characterize the biological pathway in which obesity enhances the activity of pro-inflammatory T cells and identify specific factors that may contribute to T cell autoimmune activity in MS. Studies in mice will also be replicated in human subjects that do not have MS to confirm whether obesity will result in the same pro-inflammatory phenotype.
This research has the potential to identify new signaling pathways by which obesity enhances central nervous system autoimmunity in MS and reveal new ways of preventing or intervening with disease development. For example, children of people with MS may have a higher risk of developing MS because they inherit some of the genetic risk from the affected parent. The knowledge generated by this research could be used to inform families of the importance of lifestyle changes in childhood to reduce the risk of MS and support the development of new treatments that target obesity pathways to inhibit MS.
Project Status: Ongoing