High salt diets have been seen as a potential risk factor for MS in the past, but a new study has brought the subject to the fore once again, after researchers presented data which found a high salt diet boosts the number and maturation of animal and human Th17 cells.
The study, “Sodium Chloride Intake and MS” was presented on 24 February at the ACTRIMS 2017 Forum being held in Orlando, Florida, by Dr. David Hafler with the Yale School of Medicine.
Researchers pinpointed a specific pathway, the p38/MAPK pathway, as a mediator of high salt-induced Th17 cell development. By using either drugs that inhibit specific components of the p38/MAPK pathway, or tools that specifically ‘silence’ the expression of genes important in this pathway, the team was able to block Th17 cell development under highunder high–salt conditions.
The highly pro-inflammatory profile of high salt-induced Th17 cells resulted in increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, including granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, and interleukin (IL)-2. Cytokines are small secreted proteins that play a key role in immune cell communication and responses, and stimulate the movement of immune cells towards sites of inflammation, infection or trauma.
These findings support the view that an “increased dietary salt intake might represent an environmental risk factor for the development of autoimmune diseases,” explains Dr Hafler. “Clinical trials are now being performed at Yale to examine how dietary salt influences immune response,” he adds.