Blood pressure drug looks promising in preventing myelin loss in MS

A group of investigators at the University of Chicago says they've found a drug that can guard myelin-producing cells, offering a possible new route to guarding against multiple sclerosis. And this is one therapy that has already been through the approval process.

The scientific team says they were able to demonstrate in animal models of the disease that guanabenz can shield cells from inflammatory stress and improve symptoms of the disease. The loss of myelin sheaths is a clear trigger for MS and developers have recently been working on developing new drugs that can spur remyelination.

Guanabenz, a blood pressure drug sold as Wytensin, "appears to enhance the cell's own protective machinery to diminish the loss of myelin, which is the major hallmark of MS," said senior study author Brian Popko, Jack Miller Professor of Neurological Disorders at the University of Chicago. "While there have been many efforts to stimulate re-myelination, this now represents a unique protective approach. You don't have to repair the myelin if you don't lose it in the first place."

Popko and his team have done earlier work on brain cells called oligodendrocytes, which produce myelin unless they're shut down by inflammatory stresses. The investigators used a mouse model in their work that expressed high levels of interferon gamma, a known inflammatory likely to wreak the worst damage. The mechanism of action of this drug in MS is its ability to temporarily block the reactivation of a protein known as eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 (eIF2α).

The Myelin Repair Foundation funded the work and is now working with the NIH on fully assessing guanabenz's potential in MS.

"Guanabenz will probably not be a standalone drug, but we hope that it can be developed for use in combination with other medications," Popko said. "Some current treatments can have severe side effects--for example dangerous infections in the brain. It would be of tremendous benefit for patients to have effective, less-risky therapies."

- here's the release

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