Understanding Multiple Sclerosis
Within the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) a vast network of neurons are constantly communicating amongst themselves, and with the peripheral nervous system (outside of the brain and spinal cord), to control every aspect of human function, from sight and hearing, to cognition and mobility. The efficiency and accuracy of communication between individual neurons form the basis for our ability to do things as diverse as complete simple daily tasks and comprehend complex philosophical or mathematical ideas.
Neuronal communication is similar to the transmission of an electrical current through a series of wires. Droves of neurons work together to deliver messages to every corner of the body by transmitting signals along their long, cylindrical mid-sections called axons and passing it on to the next neuron. This is repeated until the message reaches its destination. Like electrical wires, neuronal axons require insulation to ensure that they are able to transmit a signal accurately, and at high speeds. Specialized cells called oligodendrocytes provide this insulation to neurons by wrapping the axons in an insulating material called myelin. Without this myelin sheath, neuronal communication becomes nearly impossible, and neurons become susceptible to damage.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease which ultimately leads to the inability of neurons to communicate amongst themselves. Because multiple sclerosis is not selective for specific neurons, and can progress through the brain and spinal cord randomly, each patient's symptoms may vary considerably.
During the initial stages of the disease, symptoms often emerge for a finite time before regressing for an extended period.