Dr. Michael Demetriou, Ani Grigorian and colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, found oral N-acetylglucosamine -- similar but more effective than the widely available glucosamine -- inhibited growth and function of abnormal T-cells that, in MS, incorrectly direct the immune system to attack and break down central nervous system tissue that insulates nerves. Oral glucosamine is an amino sugar often used in supplements that are supposed to help joints in people suffering from osteoarthritis.
In previous research, Demetriou and colleagues discovered environmental and inherited risk factors associated with MS converge to affect how specific sugars are added to proteins regulating the disease.
"This sugar-based supplement corrects a genetic defect that induces cells to attack the body in MS, making metabolic therapy a rational approach that differs significantly from currently available treatments," Demetriou said in a statement. "This makes metabolic therapy a rational approach that differs significantly from currently available treatments."
Virtually all proteins on the surface of cells, including immune cells such as T-cells, are modified by complex sugar molecules of variable sizes and composition. Recent studies have linked changes in these sugars to T-cell hyperactivity and autoimmune disease, Demetriou said.
The findings are published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.
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