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Science File

Vitamin B3 May Protect Nerves in MS Patients

Early research suggests nicotinamide can treat the most severe form of the debilitating disease.

September 23, 2006|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

Research in mice suggests that a commonly used vitamin called nicotinamide can alleviate the symptoms of the most severe form of multiple sclerosis by protecting nerve fibers from damage. Currently, there is no effective treatment for this phase of the disease, called chronic progressive MS.

The researchers at Children's Hospital Boston hope to begin trials in humans soon, but they cautioned that the doses used in the mice were substantially higher than those typically used in humans.

"We saw no side effects in animals at those doses," said Dr. Shinjiro Kaneko of Children's Hospital, "but we definitely need to go through safety tests" in humans.

MS, which affects about 400,000 Americans, is a disorder in which the patient's immune defenses attack nerve fibers' myelin sheath, causing the fibers to short-circuit. Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty walking, spasticity and cognitive changes.

Current treatments, which primarily use forms of the protein interferon, target the immune system in the disease's earliest stage -- the relapsing, remitting phase -- but have little effect in the later stages.

Kaneko and his colleagues studied mice with an MS-like disease called experimental autoimmune encephalitis.

They reported in Wednesday's Journal of Neuroscience that daily injections of nicotinamide, or vitamin B3, significantly reduced the severity of the animals' symptoms for at least eight weeks. The greater the dose, the greater the protection.

The treatment even reduced symptoms when it was begun 10 days after induction of the disease. "The earlier therapy was started, the better the effect, but we hope nicotinamide can help patients who are already in the chronic stage," Kaneko said.

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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