Washington: Researchers have discovered a vitamin D-based treatment that can halt - and even reverse - the course of the disease in a mouse model of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The treatment involves giving mice that exhibit MS symptoms a single dose of calcitriol, the active hormone form of vitamin D, followed by ongoing vitamin D supplements through the diet.
Lead scientist biochemistry professor Colleen Hayes said that all of the animals just got better and better, and the longer we watched them, the more neurological function they regained.
While scientists don't fully understand what triggers MS, some studies have linked low levels of vitamin D with a higher risk of developing the disease. Hayes has been studying this "vitamin D hypothesis" for the past 25 years with the long-term goal of uncovering novel preventive measures and treatments.
Over the years, she and her researchers have revealed some of the molecular mechanisms involved in vitamin D's protective actions, and also explained how vitamin D interactions with estrogen may influence MS disease risk and progression in women.
First, Hayes' team compared the effectiveness of a single dose of calcitriol to that of a comparable dose of a glucocorticoid, a drug now administered to MS patients who experience a bad neurological episode. Calcitriol came out ahead, inducing a nine-day remission in 92 percent of mice on average, versus a six-day remission in 58 percent for mice that received glucocorticoid.
Next, Hayes' team tried a weekly dose of calcitriol. They found that a weekly dose reversed the disease and sustained remission indefinitely.
But calcitriol can carry some strong side effects - it's a "biological sledgehammer" that can raise blood calcium levels in people, Hayes says - so she tried a third regimen: a single dose of calcitriol, followed by ongoing vitamin D supplements in the diet.
The study has been published online in the Journal of Neuroimmunology.