Multiple sclerosis (MS) continues to baffle those who seek to understand it. The cause of the disease remains obscure, as does the mechanism of the drugs used to ameliorate its symptoms. Affecting 0.1 percent of the population, the neurodegenerative disease is marked by demyelination, or the destruction of the myelin sheath on neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Researchers have been scrutinizing the proteins and lipids composing myelin, studying genetics of patients, exploring links between similarity of microbial and myelin peptides, and attempting to incorporate this knowledge into effective treatments.

"We've got a big pile of facts, but we don't have a lot of structure," says Jeffrey Latts, vice president for clinical research and development at Berlex Laboratories Inc. The Wayne, N.J.-based pharmaceutical firm has developed one of the drugs now available to treat MS.

'EPIPHENOMENA': Evidence for MS as an autoimmine disease is circumstantial, cautions Penn neurologist...

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