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Study shows sugar supplement may treat immune disease
June 8, 2007
A sugar supplement may treat immune disease by sweetening the
overactive immune cells responsible for autoimmune diseases such as
multiple sclerosis (MS) and type 1 diabetes and stopping them attacking
the body's tissues, a study shows.
Naturally occurring N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) molecules attach to
T-cell receptors and these GlcNAc "branches" form a lattice on the cell
surface that prevents the receptors from clustering near where the
antigens are located, US researchers found, according to the latest
issue of New Scientist available here Thursday.
GlcNAc is a similar but more potent compound like glucosamine, a
dietary supplement commonly taken by people with osteoarthritis, which
has some immunosuppressive effects.
A large number of proteins in the body are modified by the attachment
of sugar molecules to their surface through a process called
glycosylation, and altered glycosylation has been implicated in some
autoimmune diseases triggered when receptors on the outside of immune
cells called T-helper 1 (Th1) cells start binding "self" antigens
rather than pieces of foreign invaders. And anything that decreases the
amount of binding should suppress the autoimmune response.
Researchers under the leadership of Michael Demetriou at the University
of California, Irvine, US, found that mice given oral GlcNAc
supplements had twice as much GlcNAc branching on their T- cell
receptors as untreated mice.
The researchers also found that T-cells engineered to cause the mouse
equivalent of MS failed to do so if they had been incubated in GlcNAc
A daily oral dose of GlcNAc also prevented type 1
diabetes in mice genetically engineered to develop the disease, the
According to the report, an earlier small study of 12
children with autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease, suggested that
GlcNAc lessened symptoms in eight of them.
As glucosamine and GlcNAc are immunosuppressive, more
research is needed to prove the safety of their supplements in humans
with autoimmune disease, researchers said.
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