An antioxidant designed by scientists more than 12 years ago to fight damage within human cells can treat symptoms in mice that have a multiple sclerosis-like disease, a new study led by an Indian-origin researcher has found.
The antioxidant - called MitoQ - has shown some promise in fighting neurodegenerative diseases. But this is the first time it has been shown to significantly reverse an MS-like disease in an animal.
The discovery by Oregon Health & Science University could lead to a new way to treat multiple sclerosis, which affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.
Multiple sclerosis occurs when the body's immune system attacks the myelin, or the protective sheath, surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system. Some underlying nerve fibres are destroyed.
Resulting symptoms can include blurred vision and blindness, loss of balance, slurred speech, tremors, numbness and problems with memory and concentration.
The antioxidant research, published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta Molecular Basis of Disease, was led by P Hemachandra Reddy, an associate scientist in the Division of Neuroscience at OHSU's Oregon National Primate Research Center.
In the study, researchers induced mice to contract a disease called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, or EAE, which is very similar to MS in humans.
They separated mice into four groups: a group with EAE only; a group that was given the EAE, then treated with the MitoQ; a third group that was given the MitoQ first, then given the EAE; and a fourth "control" group of mice without EAE and without any other treatment.
After 14 days, the EAE mice that had been treated with the MitoQ exhibited reduced inflammatory markers and increased neuronal activity in the spinal cord - an affected brain region in MS - that showed their EAE symptoms were being improved by the treatment.
The mice showed reduced loss of axons, or nerve fibres and reduced neurological disabilities associated with the EAE.
The mice that had been pre-treated with the MitoQ showed the least problems. The mice that had been treated with MitoQ after EAE also showed many fewer problems than mice who were just induced to get the EAE and then given no treatment.
"The MitoQ also significantly reduced inflammation of the neurons and reduced demyelination. These results are really exciting. This could be a new front in the fight against MS," Reddy said.
"It appears that MitoQ enters neuronal mitochondria quickly, scavenges free radicals, reduces oxidative insults produced by elevated inflammation, and maintains or even boosts neuronal energy in affected cells," said Reddy.
The hope has been that MitoQ might help treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Studies evaluating its helpfulness in treating those diseases are ongoing.