Turkey's Twist on Treating Multiple Sclerosis
Scientists Use Protein Byproduct to Reverse MS-Like Paralysis in Mice
Nov. 3, 2005 -- A compound found in turkey may one day help treat multiple
sclerosis (MS), new research shows.
So far, scientists have tested an artificial version of the compound on mice
with an MS-like condition. The strategy they tried reversed the paralysis
caused by the mice's disease, the researchers write in Science.
That doesn't mean that your Thanksgiving dinner will cure or prevent MS. But
the finding may eventually prompt the development of new drugs for MS and other
The researchers included Michael Platten, MD, now of the neurology
department of Germany's University of Tubingen, and Lawrence Steinman, MD, of
Platten's team focused on tryptophan, a chemical that's found in turkey and
Specifically, they studied compounds released when tryptophan breaks
In the body, tryptophan has several jobs. It helps make serotonin (a brain
chemical), as well as the B vitamin niacin. It may be best known by the public
for making some people feel sleepy after eating turkey.
Platten's experiment focused on how tryptophan's byproducts affect the
Calming Killer Cells
In MS, the immune system doesn't work properly.
The immune system is supposed to defend the body from things that don't
belong there (like viruses). But in MS, the immune system attacks the body
itself. That's why MS is called an "autoimmune" disease.
The dirty work is done by "T cells," the immune system's killer
T-cells are called into action by a series of chemical messengers. Picture
an attack dog waiting in its kennel until several layers of staffers sign off
on its release.
What if those chemical orders were short-circuited? Platten's team used
tryptophan's byproducts to do that in mice with an MS-like condition.
Tests on Mice
In one test, the food of the mice was laced with doses of synthetic
tryptophan byproducts. After eating that food, the mice's disease-related
paralysis was reversed, the researchers report.
In another test, mice had "fewer relapses and less severe disease"
after eating the experimental food, the researchers write.
Basically, the byproducts ordered the mice's out-of-control immune system to
calm down. They did that by boosting chemicals that regulate the immune system.
That blocked the mice's disease from launching a dangerous cascade of T
The byproducts weren't tested on people. The results may point the way to
the creation of a new class of drugs for MS and other diseases, the researchers