A hormone associated with pregnancy could help treat multiple sclerosis (MS) and other conditions affecting the nervous system, according to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Scientists from the University of Calgary found the prolactin hormone generated by pregnant women helps produce the fatty substance myelin, which is crucial in protecting nerve cells and transmitting messages across the nervous system.
People with MS see their myelin levels attacked and often lose their coordination as a result of damaged nerve cells.
But the study, which was based on mice, suggests the prolactin hormone could help myelin re-form and ease the symptoms of the condition.
"It is thought that during pregnancy, women's immune systems no longer destroyed the myelin," said Samuel Weiss, director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and senior author of the study.
"However, no previous study has tested whether pregnancy actually results in the production of new myelin, which may lead to improvement of symptoms."
Fellow researcher Luanne Metz added: "This discovery has the potential to take MS therapy a step further than current treatments that stabilise the disease in its early stages."
According to the MS Society, 2.5 million people in the world suffer from the condition, including 85,000 in the UK.