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Salty diet increases number of aggressive immune cells

High salt intake can lead to a massive increase in the number of aggressive immune cells that play a part in triggering multiple sclerosis and which worsen the disease in a model. This is the result of a study carried out at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen (Erlangen University Hospital) in close collaboration with researchers at Yale University and the Berlin Max Delbrück Center. The journal Nature reports on the study and its results in today’s issue1).

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that occurs especially in young adults and which can lead to a large variety of neurological deficits as well as permanent disability. Researchers now suspect that Th17 cells, which produce the messenger substance interleukin 17, play an important role in causing MS. In an international consortium together with Dr. Markus Kleinewietfeld and Prof. David Hafler from Yale, the FAU researchers led by PD Dr. Ralf Linker, Prof. Jens Titze and Prof. Dominik Müller examined the impact of table salt and salty diets in an experimental model of MS.

Salt worsens course of the disease in MS model

In cell culture experiments the group of researchers could show that adding table salt led to a drastic increase in especially aggressive Th17 cells. In the MS model, called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, a diet very high in salt also noticeably increased the formation of such pro-inflammatory cells; interestingly, this reaction was strongest in the central nervous system. At the same time, an increased salt intake resulted in the disease taking a more severe course.

A more detailed examination of this effect in cell cultures showed that the increased production of aggressive Th17 cells due to table salt is regulated in very specific ways on the molecular level. ‘These insights are an important contribution to our understanding of MS and may lead to new approaches for improved treatment of this disease, which is incurable so far,’ says neurologist Dr. Ralf Linker. Dr. Linker, who is head of the neuroimmunology outpatient clinic at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, co-ordinates the Erlangen experiments with his colleagues Prof. Müller and Arndt Manzel and works to ensure the insights from the laboratory are put to good use for patients. The Erlangen researchers suspect that the salt-rich modern lifestyle in the industrialised nations could be connected with the increased prevalence of autoimmune diseases in the Western world.

Further studies will have to show whether a change in diet can really have a positive impact on MS.

Competent treatment of MS patients in Erlangen

MS patients receive comprehensive and professional treatment from PD Dr. Ralf Linker’s team at the neuroimmunology outpatient clinic of the Department of Neurology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. The only such institution in the Nuremberg Metropolitan Region, it is part of a national and international network of experts and research institutions. This allows for the use of cutting-edge research and approaches to therapy in treating and advising patients.

1)Sodium Chloride Drives Autoimmune Disease by the Induction of Pathogenic Th17 Cells, Nature, doi: 10.1038/nature11868

Markus Kleinewietfeld1, 2*, Arndt Manzel3, 4, Jens Titze5, 6, Heda Kvakan7, 8, Nir Yosef2, Ralf A. Linker3, Dominik N. Muller7,9+, David A. Hafler1, 2*+

1Departments of Neurology and Immunobiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States, 2Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, United States, 3Department of Neurology University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, 4International Graduate School for Neuroscience, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, 5Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, United States. 6Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research and Department for Nephrology and Hypertension, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. 7Experimental and Clinical Research Center, a joint cooperation between the Charité Medical Faculty and the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine Berlin, Germany, 8Helios Klinikum Berlin-Buch, Germany, 9Nikolaus-Fiebiger-Center for Molecular Medicine, University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany

* corresponding authors

+these authors contributed equally to the work

Further information:

PD Dr. Ralf Linker
Phone: +49 (0)9131 85 32187

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