The disease causes the breakdown of the fatty protein that coats nerve fibers -- the myelin sheath -- which disrupts the ability of the brain to conduct electrical impulses. Though bouts of illness in the early stages of MS can be recovered from, eventually patients enter the chronic progressive stage of the disease, for which there is not an effective treatment.
Researchers at the Children's Hospital Boston conducted a study on mice with a disease called experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE), which is similar to MS, and found that daily shots of nicotinamide -- a form of vitamin B3 -- protected the animals' cells from breakdown of the myelin sheath. The researchers also found that the higher the dose of nicotinamide, the greater the protective effects. In fact, the mice receiving the highest dose of the vitamin scored on the lowest end of a scale rating the animals' disabilities, while those receiving no vitamin shots scored toward the middle to high end of the scale.
The researchers noted that the nicotinamide still considerably reduced the neurological effects of EAE when treatment was delayed, indicating that treatment later in the human stages of MS could still be effective.
"The earlier therapy was started, the better the effect, but we hope nicotinamide can help patients who are already in the chronic stage," says lead researcher Dr. Shinjiro Kaneko, who also said that the vitamin shots were cheap and had few side effects.
The researchers say further research is needed to determine if vitamin shots will work on the disease in humans.