Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have found that high consumption of a common artificial sweetener, sucralose, lowers activation of T cells in mice.
If found to have similar effects in humans, one day it could be used therapeutically to help dampen T cell responses. For example, in patients with autoimmune diseases who suffer from uncontrolled T cell activation.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, about 600 times sweeter than sugar, that is commonly used in drinks and food.
In the study, funded by Cancer Research UK and published in Nature, the mice fed diets containing high doses of sucralose were less able to activate T cells in response to cancer or infection. No effect was seen on other types of immune cells.
By studying T cells in more detail, the researchers found that a high dose of sucralose impacted intracellular calcium release in response to stimulation, and therefore dampened T cell function.
It is to be noted that humans consuming normal or even moderately elevated levels of sucralose would not be exposed to the levels achieved in this study.
Karen Vousden, senior author and principal group leader at the Crick, says: “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 that are 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.”