What causes multiple sclerosis (MS) to go into remission while women are pregnant may be the secret to overcoming the devastating neurodegenerative disease, say University of Calgary researchers who have found that a pregnancy-related hormone is responsible for rebuilding affected nerve cells.
Reporting their findings in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers found that the hormone prolactin encourages the spontaneous production of myelin, the fatty substance that coats nerve cells and plays a critical role in transmitting messages in the central nervous system. They determined that prolactin, which increases in the body during pregnancy, is directly responsible for the formation of new myelin in pregnant mice. Further, when non-pregnant mice with MS-like lesions were injected with prolactin, their myelin was also repaired.
MS is a neurodegenerative disease where the body's own immune system attacks the myelin surrounding nerves, leading to progressive loss of sensation and movement. MS affects approximately 2.5 million people worldwide. "It is thought that during pregnancy, women's immune systems no longer destroyed the myelin," said Samuel Weiss, senior author of the study. "However, no previous study has tested whether pregnancy actually results in the production of new myelin, which may lead to improvement of symptoms."
Weiss said that prolactin could be the basis for a potential therapeutic substance in the future. Subsequent tests of prolactin in animal models of MS will be required before testing of prolactin on humans can take place, but MS researchers are hopeful human trials can take place within the next several years.
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Source: University of Calgary