Researchers are exploring new treatment options for multiple sclerosis, specifically therapy that is more effective and less toxic.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune inflammatory disorder in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath enveloping and insulating the nerves. A progressive disease that often results in severe neurological disabilities, it is also characterized by acute attacks in which sufferers experience such symptoms as partial paralysis, loss of feeling in the extremities, optic neuritis, memory problems, and problems with speech and swallowing.
Current treatments for MS focus on disease management, particularly interferon-based therapies that ameliorate the frequency of acute attacks, but do not halt disease progression. Additionally, interferon has unusually harsh side effects in the majority of patients, comparable in severity to those experienced by chemotherapy patients. The search for more effective and less toxic treatments for MS is thus a high priority for medical researchers and medical funding organizations.
Recently, a group of researchers at the Stanford Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences explored the use of a synthetic bile acid agonist in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis with remarkable results. They’ve published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Farnesoid X receptor (FXR) is a nuclear hormone receptor that interacts with bile acid synthesis, transport, and cholesterol metabolism. Recent studies indicate that bile acid-FXR regulation plays an important role in hepatic and intestinal inflammation. Notably, FXR-knockout mice have been observed to express higher disease severity in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis called experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE).
The researchers treated mice exhibiting EAE with an oral drug called obeticholic acid (6-ECDCA), a synthetic FXR agonist that is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of a number of inflammatory diseases. They also tested the mice with a natural FXR ligand (CDCA); in both cases, the disease was significantly ameliorated. They also found that 6-ECDA was more effective than the natural ligand at suppressing the disease.
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