Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease that currently has no cure, but scientists may have uncovered a new therapy involving a lipid that regulates inflammation. Tests in mice showed that administering the lipid reduced symptoms and slowed disease progression, hinting at an underlying mechanism for the condition.
MS is an autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic inflammation, as the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin, the protective coating around neurons. Over time, the destruction of this coating interferes with the transmission of signals around the nervous system, resulting in trouble with movement, coordination and vision. So far there’s no known cure, but existing treatments can reduce symptoms, prevent flare-ups and slow progression.
In the new study, researchers at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) uncovered a new potential treatment. The key is a lipid known as Maresin-1, which plays a vital function in regulating inflammation.
Normally, inflammation is an important response to infection, helping the immune system clear out the problem. But sometimes inflammation doesn’t get the memo that its job is done, and lingers too long, often causing pain and contributing to conditions such as MS. It’s the job of lipid mediators, such as maresin-1, to shut down inflammation before it overstays its welcome.
With that in mind, the UAB researchers experimented with administering maresin-1 to mice with MS. They found that the lipid dramatically suppressed the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and reduced levels of other immune cells in the animal's spinal cord and blood. Most importantly, the treatment slowed the progression of neurological deterioration in the mice.
To check whether too little maresin-1 could play a role in the development of MS, the team examined samples from patients with the disease. And sure enough, levels of these inflammatory mediators were so low as to be almost undetectable.
"Our results suggest that one of the body's mechanisms for resolving inflammation is not working properly in patients with multiple sclerosis, which could partly explain the episodes of autoimmunity they experience,” said Dr. Rubén López-Vales, lead author of the study.
The work could pave the way for new treatments for MS and other autoimmune diseases. The next steps are to investigate the safety of administering this lipid, before any human studies could eventuate.