April 23, 2002
At two recent scientific meetings, results of studies were presented suggesting that Lipitor® (atorvastatin) and other “statins,” drugs used to lower cholesterol, can treat experimental animal models of MS. This research adds to previous basic studies suggesting that statins can alter immune responses in a way that may hold promise in treating human MS, which involves immune attacks against brain and spinal cord tissue. Human clinical trials will be needed to determine whether statins can benefit persons with MS. At least one preliminary clinical trial is under way.
Reporting at two recent scientific meetings (American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting and Experimental Biology 2002), two groups of investigators have found that statins, a widely-used class of oral cholesterol-lowering drugs, have immune-regulating properties that may hold promise for treating MS. One study involved mice with the MS-like disease EAE, and the second involved studies of cells from humans with MS and controls in the laboratory.
One group of investigators from Stanford University and the University of California at San Francisco reported that treating mice with EAE with oral Lipitor at the onset of their disease could reverse its paralysis, and that treating mice after an acute attack could resolve the attack. Looking at their brains and spinal cords, the treated mice appeared to have less damage than would be expected.
Another group of investigators from the Karl-Franzens University (Graz, Austria) and Heinrich Heine University (Düsseldorf, Germany) examined the influence of different forms of statins on white blood cells (immune cells) in test tubes, taken from individuals with MS and healthy controls. This study also showed that several forms of statins, including mevastatin, simvastatin (Zocor®) and lovastatin (Mevacor®), could inhibit the immune cells’ responses, the immune messenger proteins they released, and specific markers of inflammation, all of which are hallmarks of the immune attack involved in multiple sclerosis.
While hopeful, these laboratory studies cannot determine whether statins will actually help people who have MS. However, there is already one small-scale trial of one type of statin, called Zocor, under way in 32 people who have relapsing-remitting MS. This trial is taking place at the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston), in collaboration with investigators at Yale University (New Haven, CT) and at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (Denver). Other studies are under consideration at this time by investigators and pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market statins for treatment of high cholesterol.
Research Programs Department
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society