Given in the early stages of disease, it offered "dramatic protection." Given in late disease, it protected against further brain damage and new disease symptoms, report Shinjiro Kaneko, MD, and colleagues at Children's Hospital, Boston.
Both effects would be welcomed by people with MS. Current MS treatments work only in the early "relapsing-remitting" phase of the disease. Nothing currently slows the devastating later "chronic progressive" stage of MS.
"The earlier therapy was started, the better the effect, but we hope nicotinamide can help patients who are already in the chronic stage," Kaneko said, in a news release. "We hope that our work will initiate a clinical trial, and that nicotinamide could be used in real patients."
Kaneko and colleagues report their findings in the Sept. 20 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Nerve Fiber Protection
During multiple sclerosis, nerve fibers -- axons -- are damaged by self-destructive immune responses. It's possible, Kaneko and colleagues suggest, that protecting them from further damage could slow disease -- or even lead to some recovery.
The researchers noticed that in the mouse model of MS, the axons of mice with hyperactive Wld genes aren't damaged as easily. The Wld gene, it turns out, makes an enzyme necessary for the production of another protein called NAD. Kaneko and colleagues found that as mice progress to MS disease, nerve levels of NAD decline.
Kaneko and colleagues tried treating MS mice with nicotinamide. NAD can be formed from nicotinamide. They found that this prevented the decline of NAD -- and protected axons from disease.
"We demonstrate that administering nicotinamide can ... result in profound neuroprotection in [the mouse model of MS], providing a novel therapeutic possibility for MS patients," Kaneko and colleagues conclude.
Of course, clinical trials will be needed to find out if vitamin B3 really can be a safe and effective treatment for multiple sclerosis.