Sea Anemone May Provide Drug to Treat Multiple Sclerosis

December 7, 2001

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease that occurs when the insulating material ("myelin") around nerve cells in the central nervous system is damaged. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that 250,000 to 350,000 people in the United States have MS. Although the exact cause of MS is not known, scientists believe that the disease is an autoimmune disorder where a person's own immune system attacks and destroys myelin.

New research suggests that the toxin from the sea anemone (Stichodactyla helianthus) may stop and even reverse some symptoms of MS. Scientists in the US and France used a rat model of MS called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). In rats, EAE produces many of the symptoms seen in humans with MS. EAE also activates white blood cells that appear to attack myelin. The scientists found that the sea anemone toxin called ShK blocked ion channels on white blood cells and prevented the symptoms of EAE. In addition to preventing the start of the disorder, ShK reversed some of the symptoms in rats. Therefore, the toxin ShK appears to not only prevent the start of the disorder, it also has the potential to treat the disease once it has started.

At this early stage of the research, the long-term effects of ShK are not known. Moreover, because ShK has been tried only in rats with an experimental form of MS, it is not known if the treatment will work in people with MS. Nevertheless, drugs that target specific ion channels may hold the cure for MS.

Did you know?

Ion channels are small holes on a cell that permit the flow of specific ions, such as potassium and sodium, across the membrane of a cell. These channels are important for regulating how a cell works.

Multiple Sclerosis | Myelin

Beeton, C., Wulff, H., Barbaria, J., Clot-Faybesse, O., Pennington, M., Bernard, D., Cahalan, M.D., Chandry, K.G. and Beraud, E. Selective blockade of T lymphocyte K+ channels ameliorates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, a model for multiple sclerosis. Proc. National Acad. Science, 98:13942-13947, 2001.

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