Ursolic acid, a compound found in some herbs and in the peels of certain fruits, promoted nerve cell repair and restored the myelin sheath covering and protecting nerve endings in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS), a study reported.
Due to its strong anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties, ursolic acid was seen to have “great potential” as a treatment candidate for MS, especially when the disease reaches its chronic, progressive stage, the researchers said.
These findings were reported in the study, “A dual effect of ursolic acid to the treatment of multiple sclerosis through both immunomodulation and direct remyelination,” published in the journal PNAS.
Many medications currently used to manage MS belong to a class of compounds known as immunomodulatory agents. These therapies focus on lowering the activity of the immune system, in an attempt to prevent immune cells from attacking nerve cells.
While quite useful in reducing the inflammation that marks acute phases of MS, these medications have no effect on neurodegeneration, and do not promote the repair of the myelin sheath that is progressively destroyed over the course of the disease. For these reasons, immunomodulatory agents are less suited to patients at a chronic-progressive stage of MS.
“An MS therapy that has both immunomodulatory and neurodegenerative effects would be highly beneficial,” the researchers wrote.
A team led by investigators at Thomas Jefferson University found that ursolic acid, a natural anti-inflammatory compound found in some herbs and fruit peels like apples and prunes, halted neurodegeneration and promoted myelin repair in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a disease that mimics MS in humans.
In their experiments, the team treated sick EAE animals with a purified form of ursolic acid.
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