Scientists Suggest Acrolein Causes MS, Hydrazaline May Treat It

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You may never have heard of acrolein, but this environmental pollutant could have an important role as a cause of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to new study from Purdue University. The study’s authors also say they have a possible new treatment for MS in a hypertension drug, hydrazaline.

Discoveries could be very significant for MS patients

According to Riyi Shi, MD, professor of neuroscience and biomedical engineering in Purdue University’s Department of Basic Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, Center for Paralysis Research and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, discovery of high levels of the pollutant acrolein is the first concrete evidence of a relationship between the toxin and MS.

Acrolein is present in tobacco smoke and automobile exhaust, but the body also produces it after nerve cells are damaged. The study’s authors report they found elevated levels of acrolein in the spinal cord tissues of mice with a disease similar to MS.

Shi pointed out that investigators are exploring the effects of acrolein on the central nervous system, noting that “only recently have researchers started to understand the details about what acrolein does to the human body.”

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Shi and his team had previously discovered that hydralazine could prevent the death of neurons caused by acrolein. In the new study, they discovered that hydralazine also delayed the onset of MS in the mice and reduced the severity of symptoms associated with acrolein without causing any serious side effects.

Given that the researchers used a dose of hydralazine lower than the standard oral dose administered to children, and that the drug was effective at binding to acrolein at low concentrations, “we expect that our study will lead to the development of new neuroprotective therapies for MS that could be rapidly translated into the clinic,” noted Shi.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that affects the central nervous system. It is believed to be an autoimmune disease, as the body attacks myelin, the fatty substance that protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. When the myelin sheath or nerve fibers are damaged or destroyed, symptoms of MS are produced.

According to Shi, “we think that acrolein is what degrades myelin, so if we can block that effect then we can delay the onset of MS and lessen the symptoms.” In the study, the elevated levels of acrolein in the MS mice were reduced by half when the animals were treated with hydralazine.

Shi explained that “to our knowledge, this is the first evidence that acrolein acts as a neurotoxin in MS and also the first time anyone has demonstrated hydralazine to be a neuroprotective drug.” This could be good news for the estimated 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people around the world with MS.

SOURCES:
Leung G et al. Neuroscience 2010 Nov 13; epub
National Multiple Sclerosis Society

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