While the cause (etiology) of Multiple Sclerosis is still not known, scientists believe that the interaction of several different factors may be involved. To answer this important question, studies are ongoing in the areas of immunology (the science of the body’s immune system), epidemiology (the study of patterns of disease in the population) and genetics. Scientists are also studying infectious agents that may play a role. Understanding what causes Multiple Sclerosis will speed the process of finding more effective ways to treat it and — ultimately — cure it, or even prevent it from occurring in the first place.
In MS, an abnormal immune-mediated response attacks the myelin coating around nerve fibers in the central nervous system, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. In recent years, researchers have been able to identify which immune cells are mounting the attack, some of the factors that cause them to attack, and some of the sites (receptors) on the attacking cells that appear to be attracted to the myelin to begin the destructive process. Ongoing efforts to learn more about the immune-mediated process in MS — what sets it in motion, how it works, and how to slow or stop it — are bringing us closer to understanding the cause of Multiple Sclerosis.