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Mishra, MK;Wang, J;Mirzaei, R;Chan, R;Melo, H;Zhang, P;Ling, CC;Bruccoleri, A;Tang, L;Yong, VW;
Iron deposition in the brain begins early in multiple sclerosis (MS) and continues unabated. Ferrous iron is toxic to neurons, yet the therapies used in MS do not counter iron neurotoxicity. Extracts of Hibiscus sabdariffa (HS) are used in many cultures for medicinal purposes. We collected a distinct HS extract and found that it abolished the killing of neurons by iron in culture; medications used in MS were ineffective when similarly tested. Neuroprotection by HS was not due to iron chelation or anthocyanin content. In free radical scavenging assays, HS was equipotent to alpha lipoic acid, an anti-oxidant being tested in MS. However, alpha lipoic acid was only modestly protective against iron-mediated killing. Moreover, a subfraction of HS without radical scavenging activity negated iron toxicity, whereas a commercial hibiscus preparation with anti-oxidant activity could not. The idea that HS might have altered properties within neurons to confer neuroprotection is supported by its amelioration of toxicity caused by other toxins: beta-amyloid, rotenone and staurosporine. Finally, in a mouse model of MS, HS reduced disability scores and ameliorated the loss of axons in the spinal cord. HS holds therapeutic potential to counter iron neurotoxicity, an unmet need that drives the progression of disability in MS.