The protein encoded by the classic MBP gene is a major constituent of the myelin sheath of oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells in the nervous system. However, MBP-related transcripts are also present in the bone marrow and the immune system. These mRNAs arise from the long MBP gene (otherwise called "Golli-MBP") that contains 3 additional exons located upstream of the classic MBP exons. Alternative splicing from the Golli and the MBP transcription start sites gives rise to 2 sets of MBP-related transcripts and gene products. The Golli mRNAs contain 3 exons unique to Golli-MBP, spliced in-frame to 1 or more MBP exons. They encode hybrid proteins that have N-terminal Golli aa sequence linked to MBP aa sequence. The second family of transcripts contain only MBP exons and produce the well-characterized myelin basic proteins. This complex gene structure is conserved among species, suggesting that the MBP transcription unit is an integral part of the Golli transcription unit and that this arrangement is important for the function and/or regulation of these genes.
Interest in MBP has centered on its role in demyelinating diseases, in particular, multiple sclerosis (MS). The target antigen of the autoimmune response in MS has not yet been identified. However, several studies have shown a role for antibodies against MBP in the pathogenesis of MS. Some studies have linked a genetic predisposition to MS to the MBP gene, though a majority have not.
A targeted immune response to MBP has been researched in lethal rabies infection. The inoculation of MBP generates increases the permeability of the blood–brain barrier (BBB), allowing immune cells to enter the brain, the primary site of rabies virus replication. In a study of mice infected with Silver-haired bat rabies virus (SHBRV), the mortality rate of mice treated with MBP improved 20%-30% over the untreated control group. It is significant to note that healthy uninfected mice treated with MBP showed an increase in mortality rate between 0% and 40%.
A "molecular mimicry" hypothesis of multiple sclerosis has been suggested, in which T cells are, in essence, confusing MBP with human herpesvirus-6. Researchers in the United States created a synthetic peptide with a sequence identical to that of an HHV-6 peptide. They were able to show that T cells were activated by this peptide. These activated T cells also recognized and initiated an immune response against a synthetically created peptide sequence that is identical to part of human MBP. During their research, they found that the levels of these cross-reactive T cells are significantly elevated in multiple sclerosis patients.
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