Metabolite Taurine Boosts Oligodendrocyte Production in MS

DECEMBER 20, 2017
Jared Kaltwasser
Gary Siuzdak, PhD, Luke Lairson, PhDGary Siuzdak, PhD, Luke Lairson, PhD
A new discovery could make existing remyelination-promoting therapies more effective in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute found that the endogenous metabolite taurine, when taken in combination with benztropine and miconazole, greatly enhances the process of converting oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) into mature oligodendrocytes. Once they reach maturity, these cells produce myelin and help repair damaged nerves in patients with MS.

While taurine on its own can’t spark remyelination, it seems to act as a booster for remyelination-inducing therapies.

Luke Lairson, assistant professor of chemistry at TSRI, told MD Magazine that taurine was identified as a result of a process that gauged levels of polar and non-polar metabolites present in OPCs versus mature oligodendrocytes.

“Identified metabolites that were present at different amounts were then screened, alone and in combination, to determine the ability of endogenous metabolites to impact the process of oligodendrocyte differentiation and/or maturation,” Lairson said.

The screening indicated that taurine levels were much higher during the process of oligodendrocyte differentiation and maturation. That prompted researchers to dig deeper.

“Taurine was the primary target metabolite since the change during differentiation was so significant and since creatine (another significantly altered metabolite) was already in our standard medium,” said Gary Siuzdak, senior director of TSRI’s Scripps Center for Metabolomics.

But Siuzdak — who is also a professor of chemistry and molecular and computational biology at TSRI — noted that it’s possible other metabolites are even more beneficial to the process.

Further study suggested that taurine helps because it is able to directly increase available serine pools, which serve as the initial building block “required for the synthesis of the glycosphingolipid components of myelin that define the functional oligodendrocyte cells state,” researchers wrote.

The research suggests that taurine could be added to an MS therapy regime in order to boost mature oligodendrocyte production, and therefore remyelination. In doing so, the hope is it would ultimately reduce relapses for MS patients.

What could make the research even more impactful is the fact that taurine is naturally produced by the body and readily available in the marketplace.

Taurine is orally available and actively transported into the central nervous system, Lairson said. It’s already part of a normal diet, and is present in products and supplements, such as energy drinks.

“It is generally regarded as safe and could be readily supplemented to the diet of patients, if deemed safe and effective in relevant animal efficacy and toxicity models,” Lairson said.

It’s also inexpensive — a bottle of one-gram tablets generally costs around $10, Siuzdak said.

The new study is part of ongoing research into MS by TSRI. Institute researchers, including Lairson, first showed the benztropine can help OPCs mature into oligodendrocytes. Benztropine was previously approved as a Parkinson’s disease drug.

Yhough taurine already has a good track record of safety, the next step is to use rodent models to confirm the study’s findings. Lairson said that work is underway.

The study, “Metabolomics-based discovery of a metabolite that enhances oligodendrocyte maturation,” was published online in Nature Chemical Biology.

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