Scientists uncover clues to cause of mystery illness leaving people blind, deaf, and paralyzed

YORK, United Kingdom — The notion of becoming blind, deaf, or paralyzed is a terrifying one. Functional neurological disorder (FND) is known to cause such symptoms in sufferers. Making matters worse, doctors and scientists have been absolutely puzzled as to what causes FND. That is, up until now. Researchers from the University of York say they’ve discovered a possible catalyst for this awful and scary condition.

Scientists frequently refer to FND as conversion disorder. The symptoms appear to be neurological, but doctors haven’t been able to identify any one physical cause for the disorder. With this new information in hand, study authors are hopeful their work will help develop new treatments for FND.

Paralysis due to gene inflammation?

The team discovered FND may originate due to a low grade inflammation process which disrupts the expression of genes. Gene expression is quite important; it’s what tells DNA to turn into proteins. Without proteins, our bodies’ tissues, organs, and muscles would break down quickly.

“This is a very difficult condition for people to live with and one which is often overlooked because the medical profession doesn’t have the answers,” says Professor Christina van der Feltz-Cornelis from the Department of Health Sciences in a university release. “People living with the condition can become very distressed and isolated, often losing jobs and social networks through being unable to communicate or being unwell. Patients can also suffer from memory and concentration problems.”

“We made the discovery by examining levels of inflammation in blood samples from patients with FND that mimicked stroke-like symptoms. They were found to be higher than normal. Also, microRNA levels in the blood seemed to play a role and this influences the expression of genes in the cell,” the researcher adds. “These preliminary results deserve further exploration and replication in larger samples before we can draw firm conclusions.”

So far, most treatments for FND have failed to benefit patients at all — making new discoveries vital for medical science.

“It is a relief to suddenly find that there may be a reason for this condition. I can’t wait for treatments that may be developed as a result of this work,” says Annie, a patient in the Conversion And Neuro-inflammation Disorder Observational (CANDO) study.

The study is published in Brain, Behavior, & Immunity – Health.

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