N-acetylglucosamine (image), a simple sugar found in human breast milk and sold as an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the United States, promotes myelin repair in mouse models and correlates with myelination levels in multiple sclerosis patients according to a new University of California, Irvine (UCI)-led study. Published online on September25, 2020 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the study also demonstrates that in mice, delivering N-acetylglucosamine orally to lactating mothers drove primary myelination in their nursing offspring. N-acetylglucosamine is a simple sugar that is metabolically attached to proteins at the cell surface to control cellular function. "We found that N-acetylglucosamine activates myelin stem cells to promote primary myelination and myelin repair," said Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD, FRCP(C), Professor of Neurology, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the UCI School of Medicine and leader of the study. "Our data raises the intriguing possibility that N-acetylglucosamine may be a simple therapy to promote myelin repair in multiple sclerosis patients". Formal human studies will be required to test this theory. The open-access JBC article is titled “N-Acetylglucosamine Drives Myelination by Triggering Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cell Differentiation.” The failure of robust re-myelination following inflammatory demyelination in multiple sclerosis leads to chronic disability and neurodegeneration. Myelin insulates the long, cable-like nerve cell branches called axons, and serves to increase the speed of electrical signal conduction between neurons. Myelination in the central nervous system also plays an important role in cognitive development during childhood.
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