Medicines being tested against strokes may also have the potential to treat multiple sclerosis, researchers said yesterday.

In the January issue of Nature Medicine, scientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York said they had found that increased levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate may be a common mechanism of damage in both brain diseases.

"If we can verify this, we can use the research which is already being done on strokes to get a head start in the treatment of MS," said Peter Werner, assistant professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College.

Glutamate, a common amino acid, acts as a neurotransmitter within the brain and is tightly regulated by the nervous system. The uncontrolled dumping of large amounts of glutamate is a major cause of brain damage in strokes.

New evidence now suggests that a similar mechanism may be involved in MS, where glutamate can act on oligodendrocytes, the specialized cells of the brain that produce myelin, the insulation for nerve fibers.

Multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease that affects nearly 1 million people worldwide, arises when the immune system mistakenly damages myelin in the brain and spinal cord.

Using a mouse model of MS, scientists found that a glutamate receptor blocker, NBQX, prevents glutamate-induced nerve damage and protects myelin-making cells from destruction, according to the report.

This raises the possibility that compounds used experimentally for the treatment of strokes may also prove useful for the treatment of MS.

"This new concept may eventually lead to a better treatment of the destruction of brain cells in MS," Werner said. "It will not stop MS, but it may help ameliorate the damage."