Oral administration of N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) — a natural simple sugar sold as a dietary supplement — prevents myelin degeneration and loss of motor function in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibers that helps to speed transmission of signals between nerve cells, is damaged and lost in MS.
“We found that N-acetylglucosamine activates [myelin-producing cells] to promote primary myelination and myelin repair,” Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD, the study’s senior author and professor of neurology, microbiology, and molecular genetics at University of California–Irvine (UCI)’s School of Medicine, said in a press release.
“Our data raise the intriguing possibility that N-acetylglucosamine may be a simple therapy to promote myelin repair in multiple sclerosis patients,” Demetriou added. Large well-controlled clinical trials are now needed to test this hypothesis.
The study, “N-Acetylglucosamine drives myelination by triggering oligodendrocyte precursor cell differentiation,” was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
In the brain, myelin damage attracts immature, stem-like cells called oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) to the lesion site, where they mature into oligodendrocytes — myelin-producing cells capable of restoring the myelin sheath.
Despite the presence of OPCs in MS lesions, remyelination (myelin repair) is incomplete or absent. As such, increasing efforts are focused on identifying potential therapeutic approaches to promote oligodendrocyte maturation and/or remyelination.
Researchers at UCI, along with colleagues in Canada and Germany, now have identified GlcNAc as one of these potential approaches.
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