April 22, 2002 -- The popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor may also treat multiple sclerosis-related paralysis. A study in mice shows that the statin drug can decrease inflammation of the central nervous system, which contributes to some forms of MS. Researchers say Lipitor may also affect other inflammatory autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes and arthritis.
In multiple sclerosis, the body's immune system attacks its own nervous system, breaking down the protein, called myelin, which sheaths and protects nerve cells. In time, the nerves can't transmit signals properly. Movement becomes increasingly difficult, and paralysis can occur.
Sawsan Youssef, PhD, and colleagues from the University of California San Francisco, gave a daily dose of Lipitor to mice genetically programmed to develop a disease very much like human MS. Just as in humans, the mouse MS can take two forms -- acute, in which the patient develops symptoms that never improve, and relapsing, in which the patient has periodic, symptom-free periods.
They found that Lipitor could prevent the onset of both the acute and the relapsing forms of mouse MS. What's more, it could prevent symptoms from returning in mice that already had the relapsing form.
The results are being presented at a scientific meeting this week.
According to the researchers, the drug appeared to prevent the release of certain body chemicals known to inflame the nervous system and make symptoms worse, while inducing the release of anti-inflammatory chemicals.
"Our results suggest that statin [drugs] may have a role in treatment of MS and other autoimmune diseases," the researchers write.