A new study from researchers at Cornell University found that mice given that much caffeine in their drinking water were protected from developing the animal model of the disease. Previous studies had established that caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor, and the Cornell researchers believe their results show the importance of this molecule in allowing immune cells into the central nervous systems of MS patients.
Multiple sclerosis occurs when the body's immune system launches attacks against nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Scientists don't know why immune cells infiltrate the central nervous system tissue of patients with MS, but earlier studies at Cornell had suggested that the molecule adenosine is responsible. The researchers' first studies showed that mice that lacked the enzyme necessary for synthesizing extracellular adenosine didn't develop the mouse form of MS.
Adenosine must bind to its receptor in order to affect a cell, so the researchers figured that immune cells could only enter into the brain and spinal cord when the receptor was activated. To test that idea, they turned to caffeine, because it binds to the same receptor, which would in turn prevent adenosine to affect cells in the central nervous system.
Dr. Jeffrey H. Mills, a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Dr. Margaret S. Bynoe, presented the findings at the conference Experimental Biology 2008. Dr. Bynoe said: "These results might mark the first in a series of discoveries from our lab that could spawn the impetus for the development of adenosine-based therapies for the treatment of MS."