A hormone released during pregnancy could help reverse damage in the cortex of the brain caused by multiple sclerosis (MS), a recent study led by UCLA has found.
In people with MS, a potentially disabling autoimmune disease, immune cells attack and damage a protective coating called myelin, which surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
When myelin is damaged, the nerve cells can no longer communicate with each other, which triggers symptoms of the disease.
Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments to repair MS-induced damage in the brain’s cortex — only treatments to decrease inflammation and slow the disease.
Many groups have been trying for over a decade to achieve brain repair, but the results have been discouraging, said MacKenzie-Graham.
Estriol is a natural estrogen that is produced during pregnancy. The hormone could have simulated the process of myelin creation during brain development in the womb. (iStock)
“Estriol targets the cells that produce myelin, encouraging them to produce more,” he said. “It also inhibits the cells that block new myelin production.”
He added, “Since we are using a natural hormone, there are complementary effects on multiple cell types, as opposed to synthetic drugs that target only one cell type.”
Dr. Mary Ann Picone, medical director of the MS Center at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, was not involved in the study but said she was “very excited” to see the results.
Estriol has long been known to have an immunoprotective benefit during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester, Picone noted.
So she wasn’t surprised to learn that it could help protect brain health.
“A personalized medicine approach, which uses tailored treatments optimized for biologic processes in each sex, holds promise for finding new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases,” he said.
Limitations of the study
The main limitation of the study is that it was conducted in a preclinical model of MS using mice, said MacKenzie-Graham.
“The next step is to test these findings in human clinical trials to determine if estriol treatment can induce remyelination in the brains of people with MS,” he told Fox News Digital.
Overall, the researchers believe this research brings hope for better treatments for multiple sclerosis.
“Instead of the standard estrogens that have used for over 30 years in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, neuroscientists should investigate unique estrogens that can induce brain repair, particularly those that recapitulate the effect of pregnancy on brain development,” he added.
Nearly one million people are currently living with MS in the U.S., according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a nonprofit headquartered in New York.