Research conducted by scientists at Stanford University makes the remarkable finding that a substance whose build-up in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease might actually offer protection against multiple sclerosis.

A team led by Lawrence Steinman, professor of neurology at Stanford and a major researcher in the MS field, knew that the substance known as A-beta (beta-amyloid), causes damaging inflammation when it’s inside the brain. A-beta, a peptide that our bodies produce naturally, is also found in the scar tissue in the brain that characterizes MS’s damage. MS is an autoimmune disease in which immune cells attack the protective covering on nerves in the central nervous system.

The team, whose study was published online Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, wanted to know what effect A-beta circulating outside the brain might have on MS activity. They hypothesized that A-beta molecules would heighten the inflammation and immune-system activity associated with MS, making the disease worse.

Working with mice that had been tweaked to suffer four different versions of a lab-mouse disease that mimics human MS, the team conducted a series of experiments to test their assumption.

Lo and behold, they found that A-beta administered outside the brain (injected in the mice’s bellies) actually tamped down the autoimmune response and lessened the severity of the MS-like disease. Among animals whose form of MS-like disease involved paralysis, A-beta injections delayed or prevented development of paralysis and in some instances even reversed it.

Conversely, among mice whose production of A-beta had been suppressed, MS-like inflammation and autoimmune activity increased.

Moreover, the injections, which placed A-beta molecules in the bloodstream but not in the brain, were found not to cause A-beta buildup in the brain. That suggests that administering A-beta in such a fashion would not lead to development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Of course, we’re talking mice here. And even if these findings are borne out in future research, things learned in the lab generally take a long time to translate to treatments. Still, the research offers a glimmer of hope as a potential new approach to combating MS.

In related news, research published June 25 in the American Chemical Society journal Chemical Research in Toxicology finds that a chemical found in diacetyl, an ingredient commonly used in buttery-flavored seasonings, encourages A-beta molecules to clump together. That could pose a health risk to workers involved in making products containing that ingredient, the study suggests.