A single antioxidant could hold the key to eradicating multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study. Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University have discovered that the antioxidant MitoQ can reverse symptoms in a mouse model of the neurodegenerative disease. The findings stand to transform the outlook for millions of patients worldwide.

Prevailing research suggests that MS-related nerve damage is driven partially by so-called oxidative stress –– cellular wear and tear caused stray particles, or free radicals. Antioxidants like vitamin C, lycopene, and selenium have been shown to help offset the activity of these particles. The new study, which is published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta Molecular Basis of Disease, sought to quantify the effect of antioxidants on MS pathogenesis and progression.

In particular, the researchers were interested in MitoQ –– an antioxidant designed by scientists nearly two decades ago. The substance has previously been shown to have a positive effect on Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders. To test whether a similar protective effect could be obtained in MS patients, the researchers designed an experiment with a mouse model called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

The mice were split into four groups: two treatment groups and two control groups. Subjects in the first group were given MitoQ after they contracted EAE. Subjects in the second group were pre-treated with MitoQ before they were exposed to EAE. In the third group, subjects were given EAE but no MitoQ. The fourth group was a pure control group free of both EAE and MitoQ.

The team found that, after 14 days, subjects who had received MitoQ showed great improvement compared to the control. While the pre-treated mice exhibited the best results, mice who received MitoQ after EAE showed signs of a surge in neuronal activity as well as a significant reduction in inflammatory markers. “It appears that MitoQ enters neuronal mitochondria quickly, scavenges free radicals, reduces oxidative insults produced by elevated inflammation, and maintains or even boosts neuronal energy in affected cells," lead researcher Hemachadra Reddy said in a press release.

“The MitoQ also significantly reduced inflammation of the neurons and reduced demyelination," he added. "These results are really exciting. This could be a new front in the fight against MS.”

The results add to the growing body of evidence that antioxidants can protect patients from nerve damage associated with MS as well as other neurodegenerative conditions. In a similar study published earlier this month, another research team from John Hopkins University showed that the antioxidant vitamin D can prevent debilitating damage by barring rogue immune cells from entering the brain. Hopefully, these discoveries will lead to new strategies agains the disorder that currently affects 2.3 million people worldwide.

Source: Peizhong Mao, Maria Manczak, Ulziibat P. Shirendeb, P. Hemachandra Reddy. “MitoQ, a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant, delays disease progression and alleviates pathogenesis in an experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis mouse model of multiple sclerosis.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Basis of Disease, 2013