Simple sugar possible therapy for repairing myelin in multiple sclerosis

Oct 08, 2020

N-acetylglucosamine, a simple sugar found in human breast milk and sold as an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the United States, promotes myelin repair in mouse models and correlates with myelination levels in multiple sclerosis patients according to a new University of California, Irvine-led study.

Published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the study also demonstrates that in mice, delivering N-acetylglucosamine orally to lactating mothers drove primary myelination in their nursing offspring. N-acetylglucosamine is a simple sugar that is metabolically attached to proteins at the cell surface to control cellular function.

"We found that N-acetylglucosamine activates myelin stem cells to promote primary myelination and myelin repair," said Michael Demetriou MD PhD FRCP(C), professor of neurology, microbiology, and molecular genetics at UCI School of Medicine and leader of the study. "Our data raise the intriguing possibility that N-acetylglucosamine may be a simple therapy to promote myelin repair in multiple sclerosis patients". Formal human studies will be required to test this theory.

The failure of robust re-myelination following inflammatory demyelination in multiple sclerosis leads to chronic disability and neurodegeneration. Myelin insulates the long, cable-like nerve cell branches called axons, and serves to increase the speed of electrical signal conduction between neurons. Myelination in the central nervous system also plays an important role in cognitive development during childhood.

"Interestingly, since N-acetylglucosamine is a major component of human breast milk but not baby formula, it may explain some of the cognitive function and myelination benefits realized by children fed breast milk as opposed to formula." said Michael Sy MD PhD, assistant professor of neurology at UCI School of Medicine, co-director of the regional multiple sclerosis program at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System, and first author of the study.

Dr. med. Alexander Brandt MD, who led the clinical parts of the study together with Dr. med. Friedemann Paul MD, added, "The association of reduced N-acetylglucosamine serum levels with white matter changes in the brain of patients with multiple sclerosis suggests that N-acetyglucosamine deficiency may contribute to disease severity."

Source: News Release
University of California - Irvine
October 7, 2020