Study findings provide further basis for dietary interventions as future treatments for disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
Significantly reducing dietary levels of the amino acid methionine could slow the onset and progression of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) in patients with a high-risk.
Methionine is known to fuel T cells in immune responses and is critical for a healthy immune system. However, because T cells cannot produce the amino acid, patients can only ensure their intake of methionine through their diet. The study’s findings suggest that patients predisposed to inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as MS may benefit from reducing methionine intake.
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“These findings provide further basis for dietary interventions as future treatments for these disorders,” said Russell Jones, PhD, senior study author and program leader of Van Andel Institute’s Metabolic and Nutritional Programming group.
During an immune response, T cells flood the affected area to help the body fend off pathogens. The investigators found that dietary methionine fuels this process by helping to reprogram T cells to respond to the threat by more quickly replicating and differentiating into specialized subtypes.
However, of these reprogrammed T cells cause inflammation. This inflammation is a normal part of an immune response but could cause damage if it lingers, such as the nerve damage that occurs in MS. According to the study authors, restricting methionine in the diet removes the fuel for this overactive inflammatory response without compromising the rest of the immune system.
Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissue. In MS, the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord is targeted by the immune system. The damage impedes messages traveling to and from the brain, resulting in progressively worsening adverse events such as numbness, muscle weakness, coordination and balance problems, and cognitive decline.
“What causes [MS] is still not completely understood. We know that genes related to the immune system are implicated but environmental factors also have a role to play. The fact that metabolic factors like obesity increase the risk of developing [MS] make the idea of dietary intervention to calm down the immune system particularly appealing,” said Catherine Larochelle, MD, PhD, study co-author and a clinician-scientist at the University of Montreal.
Jones cautions that the findings must be verified in humans before dietary guidelines can be developed. The research team also plans to investigate whether new medications can be designed that target methionine metabolism.