The dampening effect of sucralose, a common artificial sweetener used in drinks and food, on the activity of mice’s immune system’s T-cells could be leveraged to mitigate over-active T-cells in autoimmune disease in humans, according to a new study.
Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, UK, have found that mice fed high doses of sucralose were less able to activate T-cells – an important component of the immune system – in response to cancer or infection.
No effect was seen on other types of immune cells, they said.
Studying T-cells in more detail, they found that a high-dose of sucralose impacted intracellular calcium release in response to stimulation, and therefore dampened T-cell function.
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If found to have similar effects in humans, one day it could be used therapeutically in patients, for example, with autoimmune diseases who suffer from uncontrolled T-cell activation, the study said.
The scientists advised that the study is not aimed to sound alarm bells for those wanting to ensure they have a healthy immune system or recover from disease, as humans consuming normal or even moderately elevated levels of sucralose would not be exposed to the levels achieved in this study.
Instead, the researchers hope the findings, published in the journal Nature, could lead to a new way of using much higher therapeutic doses of sucralose in patients.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, about 600 times sweeter than sugar, that is commonly used in drinks and food.
Like many other artificial sweeteners, the effects of sucralose on the body are not yet fully understood, although recent studies have shown that sucralose can impact human health by affecting the microbiome.
Mice were fed sucralose at levels equivalent to the acceptable daily intake recommended by the European and American food safety authorities.
Importantly, while these doses are achievable, they would not normally be reached by people simply consuming food or drinks containing sweeteners as part of a normal diet, the study said.
”We’re hoping to piece together a bigger picture of the effects of diet on health and disease, so that one day we can advise on diets best suited to individual patients, or find elements of our diet that doctors can exploit for treatment.
”More research and studies are needed to see whether these effects of sucralose in mice can be reproduced in humans. If these initial findings hold up in people, they could one day offer a way to limit some of the harmful effects of autoimmune conditions.” said Karen Vousden, senior author and principal group leader at the Crick.
”We do not want people to take away the message that sucralose is harmful if consumed in the course of a normal balanced diet, as the doses we used in mice would be very hard to achieve without medical intervention.
”The impact on the immune system we observed seems reversible and we believe it may be worth studying if sucralose could be used to ameliorate conditions such as autoimmunity, especially in combinational therapies,” said Fabio Zani, co-first author and postdoctoral training fellow at the Crick.
”We’ve shown that a commonly used sweetener, sucralose, is not a completely inert molecule and we have uncovered an unexpected effect on the immune system.
”We are keen to explore whether there are other cell types or processes that are similarly affected by this sweetener,” said Julianna Blagih, co-first author of the study, University of Montreal.