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Study Finds Levels of Nerve Protein in Blood Provide Good Grasp of MS Activity

December 14, 2017

Swedish study reports that blood levels of the nerve damage marker, neurofilament light, have shown multiple sclerosis (MS) activity in both the relapsing-remitting and progressive forms of the autoimmune disease. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg discovered a close link between levels in blood and spinal fluid, which means the marker can be analyzed without a spinal tap.

Another finding was that this factor can distinguish between those with inflammatory neurological diseases like MS, those with non-inflammatory brain conditions and healthy people.

The published study was called, “Monitoring disease activity in multiple sclerosis using serum neurofilament light protein.”
Protein that is found in nerve cells is the marker in this case, which leaks into the spinal fluid and blood when the cells become damaged. Researchers value it with high importance for studying MS activity.

The Swedish study involved 373 people—286 of them being MS patients, 45 others with neurological conditions and 42 healthy controls. Those in the MS group had various forms of the disease—relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), primary progressive MS (PPMS) and secondary progressive MS (SPMS). Participants in the MS group displayed higher levels of the marker than those in the other groups, regarding both their blood and spinal fluid, where the concentrations in blood mimicked those in spinal fluid.

RRMS and progressive MS patients both displayed more disease activity as they had indicated higher levels of the marker. They were seen to have a higher number in relapses and numbers of inflammatory brain lesions. The participants with more inflammatory lesions also had higher levels of the marker than those with fewer lesions.   

MS therapies were found to lower the levels of the marker; if the subgroup of patients in this area of the study had increased their treatment or switched from standard drugs to more effective ones, the concentrations dropped further. Whereas untreated patients continued to have higher levels of the marker.

There was a weak correlation between levels of the marker and a patients’ disability that was also discovered by the researchers, although no correction had been done between how long a person has had MS and the levels of the marker. Age and sex were other factors that did not affect the marker’s levels in any way.

According to a recent study, the marker may even replace magnetic resonance imagine scans as a measure of a patients’ disease activity. It may also become a mainstay of doctors’ monitoring of MS activity in the future, as researchers around the world are observing the proteins benefits of identifying features of MS development.