A baby’s dose of aspirin reduces the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis offering hope to over 100,000 sufferers in the UK.
The common painkiller reversed immune system abnormalities and reduced the severity of symptoms.
The findings by US scientists highlight a previously unknown effect of this common pain reliever and anti-inflammatory on the immune system.
It raises the possibility that low-dose aspirin may find further application in MS and other autoimmune disorders.
Multiple sclerosis or MS is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord but its exact cause is unknown.
Symptoms can be mild or severe and include tiredness, dizziness, numbness or feeling weak, and problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
It’s a lifelong condition most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30 with more than 100,000 people diagnosed in the UK.
Assistant Professor Susanta Mondal at Rush University Medical Centre, Chicago, explained: “Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease in adults.
“Although the etiology of MS is not completely understood, in patients with MS,
a T cell–mediated autoimmune response that targets the central nervous system (CNS) results in demyelination and associated disability.”
These rogue T cells attack and degrade myelin – a protein in the nervous system that coats neurons and facilitates the transmission of electrical impulses – resulting in a range of motor and neurological symptoms.
MS patients have dysfunctional regulatory T cells (Treg), which normally suppress the activity of “autoreactive” T cells that are responsible for the autoimmunity observed in MS.
In mice models of MS known as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) and associated with a deficiency in Treg numbers and function, the scientists found aspirin promoted the development of Tregss while suppressing autoreactive inflammatory T cell responses in culture.
Even low doses reduced symptom severity, curtailed myelin degradation, and inhibited infiltration of immune cells in the spinal cord.
Aspirin also restored Treg levels by stimulating production of the protein interleukin-11 (IL-11), a process that was mediated by a transcription factor named CREB.
Prof Mondal said: “Although few drugs are available, it is important to identify a safer and an effective drug for MS.
“Aspirin is one of the most widely used drugs throughout the world for various purposes.
“On the one hand, it is a household analgesic for controlling pain, fever, and inflammation; on the other hand, it is also used to lower heart attack and stroke in patients with cardiovascular disease.
“It has been reported that aspirin can also reduce the incidence of cancer and cancer
mortality, especially in gastrointestinal cancers.”
“Here, we describe a new function of aspirin in which this drug inhibits the autoimmune disease EAE.
“Oral use of low-dose aspirin reduced the progression of both adoptively transferred
and chronic EAE in mice.”
Prof Mondal said: “There are several advantages of aspirin over other available therapies for MS.
“Aspirin has been widely used as an analgesic throughout the world for decades with well-known safety profile.
“Because it is an oral drug, it can be taken through the least painful route.
“Although at high doses aspirin is reported to exhibit some toxic effects (gastric ulcers, stomach bleeding, tinnitus, etc.), in our study aspirin suppressed the disease process of EAE at low doses (1 and 2 mg/kg body weight per day).
“A single pill of baby aspirin containing 81 mg of aspirin is considered to be very much safe for adults for daily use, and the doses we used in mice are almost equivalent to baby aspirin.
“Although mouse results are not always translated to human, our results highlight an undiscovered property of aspirin and suggest the possibility that low-dose aspirin may be repurposed for therapeutic intervention in MS and other demyelinating
conditions as an adjunct therapy.”
The study was published in the journal Science Signaling.