Compound in fruit peels halts damage, spurs neuronal repair in MS

April 09, 2020
New research suggests ursolic acid, a compound found in the peels of fruits such as apples and prunes, and some herbs, can reduce further damage to neurons, and also help rebuild the protective sheaths covering neurons, reversing the damage in animal models of multiple sclerosis.

Researchers at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, in Philadelphia, used a lab-grade purified form of ursolic acid in mice that had an established MS disease. They used a mouse model of MS that develops the disease slowly during the course of its life. At about day 12, the mouse begins the acute phase of the disease, when signs of MS appear and when currently-available medications are most effective. The researchers, however, started treating mice at day 60 – a far more advanced stage of the disease when chronic tissue damage has been formed in brain and spinal cords, which needs to be repaired and regenerated.

Researchers treated the mice for 60 days, and began to see an improvement at day 20 of treatment. The mice, which were paralyzed at the start of the experiment, regained the ability to walk around again, although with weakness, after treatment.

The researchers also investigated just how ursolic acid acted on cells. They found it suppressed Th17 cells – a type of immune cell that is one of the main drivers of the pathological autoimmune response in MS. Many currently active therapies appear to suppress Th17. But the Jefferson researchers showed that the compound could activate precursor cells to mature into much needed myelin-sheath-making cells, called oligodendrocytes.

Results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans and may be years away from being a marketable treatment. However, the study’s authors said the next steps for their investigations include testing the compound for safety. Although ursolic acid is available as a dietary supplement, it could be toxic at high doses. People with MS should speak to their doctor before adding any supplements to their treatment regimen.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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