In that study, “A regenerative approach to the treatment of multiple sclerosis,” scientists showed that Cogentin promotes the differentiation of oligodendrocyte precursor cells into mature oligodendrocytes – the cells that produce myelin – thereby enhancing the repair of damaged nerves.
Now, TSRI researchers aimed to identify whether endogenous metabolites – natural molecules produced by human cells during their metabolic functions, and which include sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids – may promote oligodendrocyte differentiation into myelin-producing cells.
Lairson’s teamed up with the team of Gary Siuzdak, PhD, the senior director of the Scripps Center for Metabolomics, and performed a metabolomics analysis – a technique that maps all the metabolites in cells.
This approach allowed researchers to identify the endogenous metabolite taurine. Specifically, researchers observed that the levels of taurine were much higher during the differentiation and maturation of oligodendrocyte cells into myelin-producing cells.
They tested the effects of taurine in a petri dish. While the metabolite alone was not very efficient at inducing oligodendrocyte’s differentiation, it boosted the efficiency of drugs like Cogentin and miconazole.
“Combining taurine with drugs that induce differentiation significantly enhances the process,” said Lairson. “You get more myelin.”
These findings are encouraging and may lead to potential new clinical options for MS patients, since taurine has been found safe at certain concentrations.
“We still need to do tests in rodent models, but this is a good starting point,” Lairson said.
Siuzdak said that unlike other “omic” technologies, “the beauty of metabolomics and activity testing is that metabolites are readily commercially accessible, generally inexpensive, and can directly impact phenotype quickly. We are no longer passive observers but instead active participants.”
The findings support the use of metabolomic-based strategies in the search for new therapies for several diseases, including MS.
“Metabolomic profiling can offer unique insight into many different diseases, both mechanistically and therapeutically,” Siuzdak said.