mRNA vaccine against multiple sclerosis?
With the development of the vaccine BNT162b2 (trade name Comirnaty) against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease COVID-19 caused by the pathogen, the German company BioNTech made headlines worldwide. Now the company is causing a stir again; she reports on a vaccine that could help against multiple sclerosis (MS).
A research team of scientists from BioNTech and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz wrote in the journal “Science“Published preclinical data on a novel mRNA vaccine approach against autoimmune diseases. The publication describes the investigation of an anti-inflammatory nucleoside-modified mRNA vaccine, which was able to suppress disease activity in various, clinically relevant mouse models of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Two mRNA vaccines against COVID-19
As the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) explains, no pathogens or their components (antigens) are required for immunization with mRNA vaccines.
“Through the vaccination, the cells in the muscle tissue are only given the information for the production of individual antigens in the form of an mRNA (messenger RNA or messenger RNA). Similar to the infection with a virus, the cell begins according to the blueprint of the mRNA with the production of proteins that are presented to the immune system as antigens and trigger an immune response, ”writes the ministry.
Two vaccines against COVID-19 are currently based on this method – one of them is BNT162b2 (trade name Comirnaty) from the Mainz-based company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer. The German company is now reporting on an mRNA vaccine approach against multiple sclerosis (MS).
Malfunctioning immune system
As in a current one Message of the University Medicine of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz are autoimmune diseases such as MS diseases in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue or the body’s own cells.
This inflammatory response in MS destroys the protective myelin sheaths that cover the nerve fibers. This interrupts the signal transmission between the nerve cells and the respective target tissue, which leads to a number of neurological and motor symptoms that can vary greatly from person to person.
According to the information, this first application of BioNTech’s mRNA technology in MS represents a new modality in this indication.
Symptomatic illness was prevented
In the researchers’ study, an anti-inflammatory nanoparticle mRNA vaccine candidate encoding an MS-associated antigen was infused into mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). EAEs are clinically relevant mouse models for human MS.
According to the announcement, the mRNA vaccine candidate was designed to deliver the encoded target antigen associated with the autoimmune disease to antigen-presenting cells in lymph nodes throughout the body while avoiding an inflammatory response. This enables a body-wide presentation of the target antigens in lymph tissue, which induces an immune tolerance to these antigens.
According to the experts, the vaccine was able to prevent symptomatic disease in all EAE mouse models studied or, in mice with pre-existing disease at an early stage, prevent disease progression and restore motor function.
The infiltration of pro-inflammatory effector T cells (Teff) in the brain and spinal cord and the de-myelination of the spinal cord were significantly reduced. These effects were achieved by inducing disease-suppressing regulatory T cells (Treg), which are directed exclusively against the vaccine-encoded antigen.
In addition, the Treg cells induced a strong, immunosuppressive “bystander” effect in all MS mouse models. This means that the Treg cells, once activated by their target antigen, can also suppress Teff cells, which are directed against other antigens, in the inflamed tissue in complex diseases.
This is an essential factor in order to be able to address polyclonal diseases that are based on different, sometimes unknown antigens, as well as to be able to address the inter-individual heterogeneity between individual patients.
Treatment of autoimmune diseases
It is important that the preclinical vaccine candidate did not suppress any immune reactions against other, non-myelin antigens (e.g. antigens of the influenza vaccine) and thus addressed one of the central challenges in the treatment of autoimmune diseases: the induction of nonspecific, systemic immunosuppression .
In addition, the vaccine candidate did not produce autoantibodies against the target antigen even after repeated administration. This is another potential challenge of current autoimmune therapies, which could ultimately lead to the disease getting worse.
All in all, these initial results on the immune response, together with the flexibility of the mRNA approach, which makes it possible to address the patient’s individual antigens, illustrate the great potential of mRNA-based therapeutics for the treatment of highly complex and rare autoimmune diseases. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.
- Universitätsmedizin Mainz: BioNTech publishes data on a novel mRNA vaccine approach against autoimmune diseases in Science, (accessed: January 11, 2021), Mainz University Medical Center
- Christina Krienke, Laura Kolb, Elif Diken, Michael Streuber, Sarah Kirchhoff, Thomas Bukur, Özlem Akilli-Öztürk, Lena M. Kranz, Hendrik Berger, Jutta Petschenka, Mustafa Diken, Sebastian Kreiter, Nir Yogev, Ari Waisman, Katalin Karikó, Özlem Türeci, Ugur Sahin: A noninflammatory mRNA vaccine for treatment of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis; in: Science, (veröffentlicht: 08.01.2021), Science
- Federal Ministry of Education and Research: What you should know about vaccines, (accessed: 11.01.2021), Federal Ministry of Education and Research
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.