Seasonal multiple sclerosis

By | Science & Technology
Young boy with MS.

Relief for individuals with the multiple sclerosis (MS) condition may well be anticipated with the coming shorter days during winter. Why this occurs is currently the focus of attention for neurologists because seasonal changes in MS symptomology have been observed. Scientists may now be able to provide convincing evidence that it is changes in melatonin that is a key factor in MS relapses.

The multiple sclerosis condition occurs when the protective sheath of myelin that insulates neurons in the central nervous system, is impaired. The result of this is that the electrical conductance and communication between nerve cells is impaired. This may result in the symptoms of MS.


MS has been described as a condition that requires a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors to be triggered. Factors like geographical variations, virus, immunisations, climate and diet have all been observed and documented to have an affect on MS intensity. Although Researchers have yet to identify one single factor working in unison that results in MS, an abundance of knowledge on the condition is emerging.

New studies by Farez and colleagues hypothesised melatonin levels are associated with the degree of MS symptomology. Farez (a neurologist) and his team noticed that the symptoms of MS were reduced during the winter months, when melatonin is at its highest level. The team monitored 139 MS participants for 12 months, tracking relapse rates and the levels of a metabolite of melatonin, 6-SM. Results indicated that participants relapse rates dropped to 32% of previous levels in the winter compared to the rest of the year.

Melatonin is an important sleep hormone, body clock regulator and antioxidant. The antioxidant properties work to protect DNA, because it is a free radical scavenger. It anticipates and is entrained by darkness and its production is ceased when the brain is stimulated by light and the productive noradrenergic system is activated. It is also fragmented by enzymes which means that during the day melatonin is absent. In the winter individuals may have a longer period of exposure to melatonin especially during the shorter days, whereas in the summer months where the days are much longer, melatonin decreases.

The team believed that melatonin may have an effect on the immune system and that T regulatory cells (a type of white blood cell) may be increased as a result. T regulatory cells suppress the immune response of other cells, after an invading organism has been eliminated. Melatonin also prevents the production of destructive T-cells. The team performed tests on mice that showed that when given melatonin the production of protective T-cells increased and production of destructive T-cells decreased. This lent significant support to the hypothesis melatonin has an affect on the immune system. The effect on human cells in the lab was similar. The team were enthusiastic about the findings although researchers had acknowledged that the results are only part of a very complex condition. Melatonin may have a major role in the condition as the team showed that melatonin supplements (exogenous) ameliorated the degree of MS.

Francesco Quintana a co-author commented, “Our research explains something that was far from known before in terms of how multiple sclerosis is modulated by the environment.” A prospect that an answer of how to provide relief to individuals with MS may have been identified. As the team commented, a new environmental factor has been discovered that modulates the condition and may be a productive development.

How does sunlight productively affect the physiology of bodies and cells?



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