The UV exposure (equivalent to two hours of direct summer sun) did not change how many mice got the MS-like disease, but it did reduce the symptoms of MS, especially in the animals that were treated with UV every other day, DeLuca says.
The research group also found that although the UV exposure did increase the level of vitamin D, that effect, by itself, could not explain the reduced MS symptoms.
In some situations, radiation does reduce immune reactions, but it's not clear what role that might play in the current study. "We are looking to identify what compounds are produced in the skin that might play a role, but we honestly don't know what is going on," DeLuca says. "Somehow it makes the animal either tolerate what's going on, or have some reactive mechanism that blocks the autoimmune damage."
MS is a progressive neurological disease with few effective treatments, but DeLuca stresses that the study, however hopeful, may or may not lead to a new mode of treatment. "There are several ways this could go. If we can find out what the UV is producing, maybe we could give that as a medicine. In the short term, if we can define a specific wavelength of light that is active, and it does not overlap with the wavelengths that cause cancer, we could expose patients who have been diagnosed with MS to that wavelength."
Does this information change the common prescription to avoid excessive sun exposure? "If you have an early bout with MS, then you have to think about your options," says DeLuca. "Remember, this is just experimental work at this stage. Whether it can be translated into practical applications on
|Contact: Hector DeLuca|
University of Wisconsin-Madison