Lipids that wind down inflammation could be a critical therapeutic tool for MS

Scientists out of Spain said their findings may support a new therapeutic approach for treating multiple sclerosis: one that centers on winding down the body’s natural responses to inflammation. 

The study, announced by the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona on Thursday, found that inflammation died down among rats when they were administered a specific lipid associated with reeling back the body’s inflammatory response. The lipid, Maresin-1, acts as a “resolver” for inflammation, which is a side effect of the body’s immune response. When administered, the scientists found that it “drastically” reduced the number of cytokines, a type of protein that promotes inflammation.

"Our results suggest that one of the body's mechanisms for resolving inflammation is not working properly in patients with multiple sclerosis, which could partly explain the episodes of autoimmunity they experience," said lead researcher Rubén López-Vales, Ph.D. The study, which was published in February in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, was a collaboration with the University of Montreal and the Universidad de La República in Uruguay. 

López-Vales and his team first identified that Maresin-1—along with other specialized pro-resolving mediators, or SPMs—was lacking in the spinal core of mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis as well as in the brains of patients with MS.

Simultaneously, eicosanoids, which regulate pro-inflammatory responses, were induced during disease progression. After being given Maresin-1, researchers found suppressed levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in addition to reduced immune cell counts, suggesting a potential clinical benefit. 

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“These data therefore indicate that SPMs in general, and MaR1 in particular, represent a novel therapeutic avenue for the treatment of MS with promising potential,” the researchers concluded. 

In MS, immune cells attack the protective cover of neurons and nerve fibers, known as a myelin sheath, causing tingling, numbness and, depending on the severity, progressive disability overtime. What’s partially confounding with treatment of the disease is how sporadic it can be for patients, with symptoms constantly fluctuating. There are more than 2.3 million people with MS worldwide with nearly 1 million diagnosed in the U.S. 

The currently available treatments focus on immunomodulators, a route often weaponized against cancer but that has at times been used to treat MS.

Novartis’ B-cell therapy ofatumumab, for example, was first approved by the FDA to treat leukemia before the company spent 10 years retooling it for the neurodegenerative disease. The drug's approval for MS was based on phase 3 data showing superiority over another immunomodulator, teriflunomide, developed by Sanofi and Genzyme. 

The consistent use of immunomodulators means there’s a lane open for a new modality, one that López-Vales will continue to pursue. He expects the next step to be additional tests to validate the safety of administering Maresin-1, setting up potential human trials in the future.