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Old drug may have new trick

Parkinson’s medication helps mice with condition like MS

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A drug that treats Parkinson’s disease might also work against multiple sclerosis, or MS.

In MS patients, an aberrant immune onslaught degrades the fatty myelin sheaths that coat nerve fibers, causing blurred vision, weakness, loss of coordination and other symptoms.

Luke Lairson of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and colleagues tested a host of compounds to see which might boost regeneration of oligodendrocytes, the brain cells that make myelin and which are often lacking in MS. Using the cells’ forerunners, nascent brain cells called oligodendrocyte precursor cells, from rats and mice, the researchers found that benztropine proved adept at steering these cells to become myelin-making oligodendrocytes.

The researchers then induced in mice a disease that mimics MS and gave some of the animals benztropine, others a standard MS drug (fingolimod or interferon beta) and some no drug at all. Whether given before or after disease onset, benztropine reduced symptom severity and prevented relapses better than other MS drugs. Mice getting no drug fared the poorest, according to results appearing October 9 in Nature.

A cell count of brain tissue revealed that mice getting benztropine had substantially more mature oligodendrocytes than mice getting no drug. Further analyses suggested the animals’ symptom improvement with benztropine resulted from a rebuilding of the myelin sheaths, not from suppressing the animals’ immune systems. The researchers think the drug, if approved for use in MS, might work in concert with immune-suppressing drugs.

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