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Polyunsaturated fatty acids in the pathogenesis and treatment of multiple sclerosis

  • Laurence S. Harbige (a1) (a2) and Mohammad K. Sharief (a3)

Epidemiological, biochemical, animal model and clinical trial data described in this overview strongly suggest that polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly n-6 fatty acids, have a role in the pathogenesis and treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). Data presented provides further evidence for a disturbance in n-6 fatty acid metabolism in MS. Disturbance of n-6 fatty acid metabolism and dysregulation of cytokines are shown to be linked and a “proof of concept clinical trial” further supports such a hypothesis. In a randomised double-blind, placebo controlled trial of a high dose and low dose selected GLA (18 : 3n-6)-rich oil and placebo control, the high dose had a marked clinical effect in relapsing-remitting MS, significantly decreasing the relapse rate and the progression of disease. Laboratory findings paralleled clinical changes in the placebo group in that production of mononuclear cell pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α, IL-1β) was increased and anti-inflammatory TGF-β markedly decreased with loss of membrane n-6 fatty acids linoleic (18 : 2n-6) and arachidonic acids (20 : 4n-6). In contrast there were no such changes in the high dose group. The improvement in disability (Expanded Disability Status Scale) in the high dose suggests there maybe a beneficial effect on neuronal lipids and neural function in MS. Thus disturbed n-6 fatty acid metabolism in MS gives rise to loss of membrane long chain n-6 fatty acids and loss of the anti-inflammatory regulatory cytokine TGF-β, particularly during the relapse phase, as well as loss of these important neural fatty acids for CNS structure and function and consequent long term neurological deficit in MS.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Dr Laurence Harbige, fax 0044 (0)1813319805, email
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