A Promising Non-Invasive Therapy to Promote Repair and Remyelination in Multiple Sclerosis

Summary: Researchers find that a non-drug based treatment approach called acute intermittent hypoxia (AIH), which consists of short periods of reduced oxygen, reduces inflammation, protects nerve fibres, and promotes repair in mice with multiple sclerosis-like disease. While the findings of this study are promising, further research will need to assess whether this treatment has the same effect in people with MS.

Details: In MS, the protective covering of nerve fibers in the brain, called myelin, becomes damaged or lost. Effective therapies that promote myelin production (or remyelination) are needed for MS. In a recent study funded by MS Canada, Dr. Valerie M. K. Verge (University of Saskatchewan) and team aimed to examine whether an emerging  non-invasive treatment approach, called AIH, could be used for MS to promote repair and remyelination. AIH treatment consists of alternating amounts of low oxygen (11% oxygen) and normal oxygen (21% oxygen) over a short period of time. In this study, mice with MS-like disease received AIH treatment for seven days and were compared to a group that received normal levels of oxygen in place of treatment.

Results: The researchers found that AIH treatment significantly enhanced repair processes in mice with MS-like disease. Treated mice showed improved clinical disease scores, reduced inflammation, enhanced remyelination, and increased protection of nerve fibres. Some of these improvements lasted up to two weeks following treatment. There was also an increase in myelin-producing cells, called oligodendrocytes, and the cells that generate oligodendrocytes, called oligodendrocyte precursor cells (or OPCs), in areas of damage. Overall, the results suggest AIH treatment may be promoting an environment supportive of repair and remyelination.

Impact: This study provides the first evidence for AIH as a promising non-invasive treatment strategy for MS and other demyelinating central nervous system diseases. Further research will need to evaluate AIH in human subjects for safety and whether it can enhance repair in MS.

  • Article published in Glia on May 3, 2023 – Acute intermittent hypoxia alters disease course and promotes CNS repair including resolution of inflammation and remyelination in the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis model of MS. Link to article – here.
  • Learn more about this MS Canada-funded study – here.