Monday, June 17, 2002
By Suzanne Rostler
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Drugs used to treat some patients with diabetes may also slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), preliminary research findings suggest.
In the study, two types of thiazolidinediones (TZDs) prevented the development of an MS-like disease, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, in healthy mice and reduced symptoms in mice that were already sick. The drugs appeared to be effective in treating both a chronic form of the disease and a relapsing form that more closely resembles MS in humans.
While it is too soon to begin prescribing TZDs to patients with MS, the findings provide a glimmer of hope to patients, the study authors note.
"The minimum we're hoping for is that they will be as good as any of the existing drugs," study author Dr. Douglas Feinstein from the University of Illinois in Chicago said in a prepared statement. "But there's a possibility they could prove to be better because this is a different class of drugs with different targets and effects."
TZDs help cells throughout the body to use insulin, the body's key blood sugar-regulating hormone. The drugs work by binding with receptors, known as PPAR gamma, which are present mainly in fat cells.
But according to the report in the June issue of the Annals of Neurology, the drugs also prevent the growth of lymphocytes or immune cells, and reduce the production of inflammatory compounds in the brain.
MS, an autoimmune disorder, results from an over-production of inflammatory proteins. These proteins slowly eat away at the protective insulation around the nerve fibers, leading to numbness, muscle weakness and stiffness, impaired vision and coordination problems. As the disease progresses, paralysis may set in.
Studies are currently under way to test whether the drugs might help patients with other neurologic disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and stroke. Previous research has shown that they may be useful in treating atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), inflammation of the colon, and psoriasis--an incurable disease that causes the skin to develop thick, scaly patches.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Feinstein noted that the drugs could cause some patients to gain weight and can contribute to hypertension, or high blood pressure. For this reason they should not be prescribed to patients with heart disease, he said.
SOURCE: Annals of Neurology 2002;51:694-702.
Copyright 2002 Reuters