Below you’ll find definitions of some of the scientific terms we use to make it easier for you to understand our research, goals and progress.


To develop tests for diagnosing and treating MS, we must first find something that is measurably different between individuals with MS and those without it, or between those responding well to a treatment and those not responding. These measurable markers are called biological markers, or biomarkers. They are usually metabolites or proteins found in blood or urine.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

CSF is the clear fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. It is the fluid collected during lumbar punctures.


DNA is the genetic material that encodes the instructions for building living things. It also contains the information needed for living things to function. It’s the cookbook of life.


Epigenetic factors produce genetic variation without changing the sequence of DNA. For example, molecules can be added to DNA that change the levels at which genes express RNA or proteins. The global study of epigenetic factors is called epigenomics.


It’s recently been discovered that immune cells can communicate with and influence each other via small vesicles called exosomes. Exosomes contain small RNAs (microRNAs) that can regulate gene expression.


The human genome consists of all of our DNA or genetic material. Genomics is the study of genomes. There are many differences in DNA sequence or genetic variants between individual people. Some of these differences cause disease or increase the risk for developing disease. For a complex disease like MS, there is not a single genetic variant that is the root cause. Instead, there are as many as 150 genetic variants that can increase a person’s risk of developing MS.


Metabolism breaks down food for energy and builds all the materials that our bodies need to function. The substances need for, and produced by, these metabolic reactions are called metabolites, and the study of the complete set of metabolites is called metabolomics.


Metagenomics involves sequencing the DNA of populations of bacteria to generate profiles of bacterial diversity.

microRNA (miRNA)

Living things need to be able to respond to changing conditions. This can be accomplished by regulating the expression of genes (that is, turning the activity of particular genes up and down as needed). One way is through miRNAs, short RNAs that regulate the expression of their targeted genes.


RNA is the genetic material encoded from DNA that mediates many of the processes necessary for life. If DNA is a cookbook filled with recipes (genes), RNA is the copy of a recipe.


In our cells, genes are the blueprints for RNA transcripts, which in turn are the blueprints for proteins. Transcriptomics is the study of the complete set of RNA transcripts.

August 28, 2018 in Research News

Protecting Participants

Some of the most frequent questions we get have to do with why we don’t share the information we learn with the study participants we’re studying. Why won’t we tell…

Read More
June 5, 2018 in Mechanisms of MS, Research News

A Little Fishy

A guest post by Briana Landis, our summer intern: Zebrafish are our new favorite fish. These tiny fish, about the size of a triple-A battery, are a popular model organism…

Read More