Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that develops when the body begins attacking the protective myelin sheaths on nerve cells. Without healthy myelin sheaths, nerve cells cannot communicate properly, and patients experience symptoms such as numbness, difficulty walking, slurred speech and vision loss.
New research suggests that administering taurine, a molecule naturally produced by human cells, could boost the effectiveness of current multiple sclerosis (MS) therapies. Scientists found that taurine helps spark a process called remyelination, which is crucial to repairing the nerve cells damaged in multiple sclerosis.
"Remission of MS symptoms is dependent on the process of remyelination, so using taurine in combination with an existing MS drug and a future remyelination-inducing treatment may help patients by improving overall efficacy," says co-senior author of the study. "This could be something to add to an MS therapeutic regime."
The discovery also highlights the potential for a technique called "metabolomic profiling," which can identify useful endogenous metabolites the body already makes in small quantities, such as taurine, for new applications in drug therapies.
"Metabolomic profiling can offer unique insight into many different diseases, both mechanistically and therapeutically," says other co-senior author.
The research was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.
Although there is no cure for MS, some current drug therapies can reduce MS relapses by encouraging re-myelination. In a 2013 Nature study, researcehrs showed that the drug benztropine, approved for Parkinson's disease, may also help MS patients by inducing cells called oligodendrocyte precursor cells to mature into myelin-producing oligodendrocytes and repair damaged nerves.
The next step was to find molecules that could make remyelination-inducing drugs even more effective, and test the potential of molecules called endogenous metabolites to influence oligodendrocyte precursor cells. Endogenous (meaning "originating from within") metabolites are molecules naturally made by cells and include sugars, fatty acids and amino acids.
The new analysis and follow-up tests in cells showed that while the endogenous metabolite taurine cannot induce oligodendrocyte precursor cell maturation on its own, it can lend a helping hand when combined with the drugs benztropine or miconazole. The researchers described taurine as a "feedstock."
"Combining taurine with drugs that induce differentiation significantly enhances the process," says the author. "You get more myelin."
Remyelination enhanced by a metabolite discovered by metabolomics
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