B cells drive responses of other immune cells, can be modified to prevent multiple sclerosis symptoms

Penn Medicine research finds that abnormally active B cell metabolism causes an inflammatory immune response in individuals with MS.

In the context of immunology, a prevailing view suggests that T cells are the primary drivers of immune response. However, new findings suggest another class of immune cells, B cells, can control responses of myeloid cells through the release of particular cytokines, which are small proteins that control the growth and activity of cells in the immune system.

Microscopic view of brain cells.
Image: iStock/Nathan Devery

In individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), abnormally active respiration in B cells drives pro-inflammatory responses of myeloid cells and T cells, leading them to attack the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers, and leading to nerve damage that causes symptoms of MS.

Now, recent research led by Amit Bar-Or of the Perelman School of Medicine shows how a new class of drugs known as Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitors corrects this abnormal activity in B cells. Published in Science Immunology, the study suggests these drugs could interrupt the dysregulated signaling pathways that lead to MS attacks, offering a potential new treatment avenue.

“Experts previously thought that T cells were the main orchestrators of responses by other immune cell types, and that MS was principally caused by overly activated T cells,” says Bar-Or, a professor of neurology and director of Penn’s Center for Neuroinflammation and Neurotherapeutics. “This research highlights that it is actually how multiple cell types interact that matters, and that B cells modulating myeloid cells play a much more active role in the immune system than we thought.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.