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Study Strengthens Link Between Low Vitamin D Levels and Risk of MS

SUMMARY

  • A study based on stored blood samples of 800,000 pregnant Finnish women found that vitamin D levels might predict who is at risk for later developing MS.
  • Vitamin D blood levels of 1,092 women later diagnosed with MS were compared to those of 2,123 women around the same age and region who did not develop the disease.
  • Women who developed MS later had average D levels lower than the women who didn’t.
  • More research is needed on how to best supplement vitamin D and to know whether and who it might help. Read more more about Vitamin D and MS.
  • The study was published on September 13, 2017 in Neurology.

DETAILS
Background: Researchers believe that several genetic and environmental factors influence whether a person will get MS. These factors may also impact the severity of the disease. Scientists are eager to find risk factors for MS that can be modified to possibly prevent MS and reduce disease activity. Research is increasingly pointing to reduced levels of vitamin D in the blood as a risk factor for developing MS, and studies are underway to determine if vitamin D levels influence MS disease activity.

This Study: This study — the largest such study to date – took advantage of a unique resource: stored blood samples from 800,000 Finnish women who had undergone routine prenatal testing during pregnancy. The study was designed to determine whether and to what extent vitamin D deficiency is associated with future risk of developing MS. The team identified 1,092 of the women who were later diagnosed with MS. The researchers compared their vitamin D levels to those of 2,123 women who were about the same age and lived in the same area but did not develop MS. Of those women whose medical records were available for examination, an average of 9.5 years had lapsed between the time of the first blood sample and the date of an MS diagnosis. For this study, classifications of blood levels of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) included “deficient” (less than 30 nmol/L) and “adequate” (greater than or equal to 50 nmol/L).

Results: The team found that overall as vitamin D levels increased, the risk of later developing MS decreased. Women with the greatest deficiency in vitamin D had a twofold increase in the risk of developing MS, and those with the highest vitamin D levels had the lowest risk of a later MS diagnosis. Most of the women in the study were considered to have deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D. Of the women who developed MS, 58 percent had deficient levels of vitamin D, compared to 52 percent of the women who did not develop the disease.

The researchers conclude that the results directly support vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for MS and that correcting this among reproductive age women may reduce their future risk of developing MS. In addition, a previous study of this same group of women found that maternal vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy doubled the risk of MS in their offspring, and a Danish study found that low vitamin D levels in infants was associated with an increased MS risk in adulthood, suggesting that improving a woman’s vitamin D levels during pregnancy may also reduce the risk of MS in her children.

The study, by a team including Drs. Kassandra Munger and Alberto Ascherio (Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston), was published on September 13, 2017 in Neurology.

Comment: This largest study of its kind to date adds to growing evidence that low levels of vitamin D increase the likelihood of developing MS. Since this study included only women, who were mostly white, the results may not apply to men or to other racial groups. It also did not account for other potential risk factors that may have played a role.

An editorial in the same issue of Neurology by Drs. Ruth Ann Marrie Christopher Beck addresses the question of whether there is enough evidence now to make sweeping recommendations on vitamin D supplementation. They note, “Vitamin D supplementation is a simple intervention that would be highly cost-effective even if it prevents only a proportion of MS cases…,” concluding, “It is time to take an active approach to preventing MS, at a minimum targeting those individuals with an elevated risk of MS, including smokers, the obese, and those with a family history of MS.”  Read more more about Vitamin D and MS

 

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Study Questions Influence of High-Salt Diet on MS

SUMMARY

  • Some recent studies have suggested that high intake of salt in the diet might influence MS disease activity and progression, but other studies have not confirmed that link.
  • In work partly funded by the National MS Society, researchers took advantage of data accumulated from a previous clinical trial involving 465 people with possible early signs of MS (CIS) whose salt levels in urine were measured over the course of 5 years.
  • They found no connection between salt intake and MS activity.
  • The study, “Sodium Intake and Multiple Sclerosis Activity and Progression in BENEFIT,” was published in the July 2017 issue of the Annals of Neurology (2017;82:20-29).
  • Although this study does not support a link between high-salt diets and MS disease activity, research suggests that most Americans eat more salt than is recommended by federal guidelines. Reducing dietary salt is considered by most to be beneficial to the heart and circulatory system.

DETAILS
Background: Several recent studies have suggested that dietary salt (sodium chloride) could potentially influence MS disease activity and progression. For example, one study of 70 people with relapsing-remitting MS, who were followed for two years, found that higher levels of salt measured in urine samples were associated with a higher rate of relapses and larger brain MRI lesions. In addition, mice fed a high-salt diet developed a more aggressive course of EAE, a laboratory model of MS. But two studies in pediatric MS did not find a relationship between self-reported salt intake and MS risk or relapse rates. Resolving this question is important because it offers the possibility that reducing salt intake might improve a person’s overall health and their course of MS.

This Study: In work partly funded by the National MS Society, researchers set out to determine if a high-salt diet is associated with faster conversion from a first neurologic episode (known as clinically isolated syndrome or CIS) to a diagnosis of definite multiple sclerosis, or with MS disease activity. Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, ScD (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine), Alberto Ascherio, MD, DrPH (Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health) and colleagues took advantage of data accumulated from a previous clinical trial involving 465 participants who participated in a trial called BENEFIT (Betaferon/Betaseron in Newly Emerging Multiple Sclerosis for Initial Treatment) over 5 years. The trial compared benefits of giving interferon to individuals with CIS early versus later. Each person provided an average of 14 urine samples throughout the five-year follow-up. The researchers estimated average long-term sodium intake from the multiple urine samples, adjusting for age, sex, height, weight, where participants lived, and many other variables.

Results: Researchers found that neither average nor high urine sodium levels were associated with conversion to definite MS. They also weren’t associated with new MRI lesions at any point in the five years, relapse rates, or progression of disability. These results suggest that high sodium intake does not play a major role in influencing MS disease course or activity in people treated with interferon, at least in the early stages of the disease.

While the study has several strengths, including its length, large sample size, and systematic collection of data, it has limitations: BENEFIT participants were treated nearly uniformly with interferon, and the results may not apply to people on other therapies or no therapy. In addition, participants in the BENEFIT trial were primarily Caucasian and resided in Europe and Canada, and it isn’t known if similar results would apply to other populations and ethnicities. The results also don’t answer the question of whether salt intake affects the risk of developing MS in the first place.

The study, “Sodium Intake and Multiple Sclerosis Activity and Progression in BENEFIT,” was published in the July 2017 issue of the Annals of Neurology (2017;82:20-29).

Comment: Although this study does not support a link between high-salt intake and MS disease activity, research suggests that most Americans eat more salt than is recommended by federal guidelines. Even in the absence of direct evidence that MS immune activity is influenced by salt, reducing dietary salt is considered by most to be beneficial to the heart and circulatory system.

Read More: Diet, along with exercise, cognitive health, and other healthy behaviors can make a big difference to how you feel as you deal with MS. Learn more about living well with MS

Researchers Find That Immune B Cells from People with MS May Harm Nerve Cells

SUMMARY:

  • Researchers co-funded by the National MS Society have found that immune B cells obtained from the blood of people with relapsing-remitting MS secrete products that can be toxic to nerve cells grown in lab dishes.
  • This study offers new insight into how B cells may contribute to nervous system damage in MS.
  • The team is now conducting further studies to identify the toxic factor or factors secreted by the B cells, and when and how they may act in people with MS, and to answer questions such as whether they are unique to MS, whether they are also evident in people with progressive MS.
  • Drs Robert P Lisak, Joyce Benjamins (Wayne State University), Amit Bar-Or (McGill University and currently at University of Pennsylvania) and colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Neuroimmunology (2017 Aug 15;309:88-99, published online May 17)

DETAILS
Background: While scientists still don’t know what causes multiple sclerosis, they do know that immune-system attacks are involved, resulting in damage to the myelin that insulates nerve fibers and to nerve cells and fibers themselves. Immune T cells have typically been named as culprits, but it has become clear that immune B cells, another type of white blood cell, are also involved in MS. Research and studies on B cells, including early studies supported by the National MS Society, eventually led to successful clinical trials and approval of Ocrevus™ (ocrelizumab – Genentech, a member of the Roche Group) to treat people with primary progressive and relapsing-remitting MS. Ocrevus depletes certain B cells.

The Study: The current study builds on the researchers’ earlier findings that B cells from the blood of people with relapsing-remitting MS – but not blood from healthy individuals – are toxic to certain cells that build myelin. In this study, the team isolated B cells in the laboratory from the blood of 13 women and men with relapsing-remitting MS who were not receiving disease-modifying treatment or recent steroids, and 13 controls without MS.

The researchers found that products released by B cells from the people with MS were toxic to both rat and human nerve cells grown in lab dishes, while cells from the controls did not incur the same damage. The nerve cells died from apoptosis – a type of self-destruct program – and not, as might be expected, from cell disintegration, or from immunoglobulins (antibodies) that have been identified as culprits in the MS attack.

Drs Robert P Lisak, Joyce Benjamins (Wayne State University), Amit Bar-Or (McGill University and currently at University of Pennsylvania) and colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Neuroimmunology (2017 Aug 15;309:88-99, published online May 17). This study was supported by the National MS Society (USA), the Research Foundation of the MS Society of Canada, and others.

Next Steps: This study offers new insight into how B cells may contribute to nervous system damage in MS. The team is now conducting further studies to identify the toxic factor or factors secreted by the B cells, and when and how they may act in people with MS. They are using “proteomics” for this work, advanced technologies the can identify and quantify numerous molecules simultaneously, along with other approaches. They also plan to answer questions such as whether the toxic B cells are unique to MS or are found in other immune mediated disease, which subsets of B cells produce the toxic effects and whether they are also evident in people with progressive MS.

Read More
Learn more about research on the immune system in MS

New MS Research

This month in Lancet Neurology, a Canadian research team reports there is a pre-clinical phase in MS. The study used health administration records from four Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia). Due to the nature of the Canadian health-care system, these provinces have computerized health-care records on >99% of residents, including hospital discharges, physician billing, prescription on records, and dates of all medical visits – all records can be linked by a unique health-care number assigned to individuals. Using these records, medical histories for 14,428 MS cases and 72,059 controls were included for this study. They compared health-care utilization in the same five-year period prior MS diagnosis between cases and temporally matched controls.

Interestingly, five years before a MS diagnosis, the number of hospital admissions for people who eventually developed MS was 26% higher than controls, and this increased to 78% higher a year before MS diagnosis. A similar pattern was observed for physician billing (5 years before diagnosis: 24% higher in people with MS than controls; 1 year before diagnosis: 88% higher in people with MS than controls). There was also a substantial increase in the number of prescribed drug classes in people with MS compared to controls (5 years before diagnosis: 23% higher; 1 year before diagnosis: 49%  higher). These results clearly demonstrate a pre-clinical stage for MS where subtle symptoms exist before clinically definitive symptoms (also known as a prodromal stage). With further research, we can explore these subtle symptoms and hopefully diagnose MS earlier and initiate therapeutics earlier, slowing the rate of progression of MS.

From: When do MS symptoms start? By Farren Briggs PhD, ScM; The Accelerated Care Project for Multiple Sclerosis

Interesting Results…

Gene That Boosts Resistance to Malaria linked to Susceptibility to MS and Lupus in Sardinia

Researchers from Italy found a strong association between the gene that instructs the molecule “BAFF” and susceptibility to MS and lupus in studies of nearly 6,000 people in Sardinia. The BAFF gene is crucial to activation of immune B cells and is also associated with resistance to malaria. Malaria was common in Sardinia until it was eradicated in 1950. The rates of MS and certain immune-mediated diseases are high in Sardinia. Further research is necessary to confirm whether this high rate is related to BAFF, and whether MS could be treated by a therapy that targets BAFF.

Read more about this study from the Genetic Literacy Project

Read the scientific summary of the paper in The New England Journal of Medicine

Read more about efforts to end MS forever

 
 

Novel Protein Identified Inside Cells During MS Inflammation May Help Explain Nerve Damage

Researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada report that levels of Rab32 – a protein that directs traffic between cell organs – are increased in sites of active inflammation in brain tissue obtained from people with MS and in mouse models of MS-like disease. This increase was linked to the destruction of nerve cells. If the results are confirmed, this knowledge could explain part of the neurodegenerative process that leads to progression of disability in MS and could be a target for development of effective MS treatments.

Read more on ReliaWire
Read the open access paper in Journal of Neuroinflammation
Read more about Research to stop MS in its tracks

Researchers Recruiting African Americans with MS Across the U.S. for Genetics Studies – Key to finding cause of MS and better treatments

Rationale: Genes are known to play a role in determining who is susceptible to developing multiple sclerosis, and may also influence the course of the disease. People living with MS can make a difference in studies searching for these genes by donating their DNA from blood samples. Identifying the exact location of MS genes could help determine who is at risk for developing the disease and may provide clues to its cause, prevention, and better treatment. Focusing on ethnic groups with lower susceptibility to MS (such as African-Americans) and higher susceptibility (such as individuals of Northern European descent), and searching for what is common and what is different in their genes may help pinpoint regions that contain MS genes. Large numbers of participants are needed to accelerate this research.

Details: It is not necessary to travel to San Francisco to participate in this study. Once an individual has completed the initial online intake form and has agreed to participate, they are emailed the links to two additional online forms and sent a kit via express mail. The kit includes a consent form, a health information privacy form, and a medical records release form. The kit also includes everything necessary for the blood draw, which can be taken to your local Quest Diagnostics Lab, where the blood can be drawn and then returned in a prepaid envelope to the UCSF MS Genetics Lab. There is no cost to the study participants.

Contact: To participate or request additional information, please complete our brief intake survey.

OR you may contact us directly:

Clinical Research Coordinator
UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Genetic Susceptibility Project
675 Nelson Rising Lane, Suite 235A, Box 3206
San Francisco, CA 94158
Email: msdb@ucsf.edu
Website: http://msgenetics.ucsf.edu/index.html
Toll Free Phone: 1-866-MS-Genes (1-866-674-3637)

Australian Team Finds Possible Molecular Pathway for MS Progression

Researchers from Australia report that the amount of molecules in a sequence of chemical reactions called the kynurenine pathway differs between people with MS and healthy controls, and between people with relapsing-remitting and progressive forms of MS. The kynurenine pathway is activated by chronic inflammation, and its activation may be involved in nerve damage and MS progression.  The kynurenine pathway has also been implicated in other neurological and psychiatric disorders. The MS-specific findings, and the potential use of the kynurenine pathway in a diagnostic test, will need to be explored in additional studies.

This work was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia. The researchers used several repositories to complete these experiments – the Accelerated Cure Project for MS, The Human Brain and Spinal Fluid Resource Center (which is sponsored by the National MS Society, among others), and the Tasmanian MS Longitudinal Study.

Positive Results Announced from Clinical Trial of BAF-312 (Siponimod) in Secondary Progressive MS

Summary

Results presented at the 32nd Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) provided additional details from a 60-month, phase III clinical trial of the experimental oral therapy siponimod (BAF312, Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG) involving 1,651 people with secondary progressive MS.

The trial met its primary endpoint of reducing the risk of disability progression compared with inactive placebo. Those on active treatment had a 21% reduced risk of disability progression compared to those on placebo. Secondary endpoints suggested that those on active therapy had 23.4% lower average change in brain volume and reduced lesion volume.

The therapy was generally well tolerated and similar to adverse events reported for similar compounds.

Details

Background: Siponimod (BAF312) is an experimental immune system-modulating therapy that was designed to be a more selective sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor modulator than Gilenya® (fingolimod, Novartis International AG). Gilenya, was approved in 2010 for adults with relapsing forms of MS to reduce the frequency of clinical relapses and to delay the accumulation of physical disability. Siponimod previously demonstrated safety and efficacy on MRI scans in a phase II study in people with relapsing-remitting MS (The Lancet Neurology, 2013 Aug;12(8):756-67).  Siponimod is thought to act by retaining certain white blood cells in the body’s lymph nodes, keeping them out of circulation and from entering the central nervous system. Siponimod also distributes effectively to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) where it may have direct anti-inflammatory or other effects.

The Study: Participants were randomly assigned to take siponimod or placebo capsules daily for up to 60 months. The primary endpoint of the study was reducing the risk of disability progression, as measured by the EDSS scale at three months. Secondary endpoints included reducing the risk of disability progression as measured by the EDSS at six months versus placebo, the risk of worsening mobility as measured by the timed 25-foot walk test, disease activity as observed on MRI scans, relapse rate, and safety/ tolerability.

Results:  Results were presented at the 32nd Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) on September 17, 2016. The trial met its primary endpoint of reducing the risk of disability progression compared with inactive placebo. Those on active treatment had a 21% reduced risk of disability progression (confirmed at 3 months) compared to those on placebo. Secondary endpoints suggested that those on active therapy had at 26% reduced risk of disability progression (confirmed at 6 months), a 23.4% lower average change in brain volume, and reduced MRI-detected brain lesion volume. There was no significant difference seen between groups in the timed 25-foot walk. Relapse rates were significantly lower in those taking siponimod.

Safety: The therapy was generally well tolerated and similar to adverse events reported for similar compounds. Serious adverse events occurred in 16.7% of participants. The serious adverse events reported to be more likely for those taking siponimod included nervous system disorders and infections.

Comment:
“These results suggest a modest benefit for people with secondary progressive MS, which is a positive step forward in the global effort to speed solutions for people living with this chronic form of the disease,” said Timothy Coetzee, PhD, Chief Advocacy, Services and Research Officer at the National MS Society. “We look forward to learning additional details about its potential benefit and safety.”

Low-fat, plant-based diet in multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial

Publication History

Published Online: July 06, 2016

http://www.msard-journal.com/article/S2211-0348(16)30100-6/fulltext#s0005

The role of diet in ameliorating the severity of multiple sclerosis (MS) has been long debated, but there remains a paucity of relevant research. Observational studies by Dr. Roy Swank, published between 1953 and 2003, suggested significantly reduced MS disease activity and disability progression and longer survival in people following a diet low in total and saturated fat compared with those who did not (Swank, 1953, Swank and Goodwin, 2003, Swank, 1970). Swank’s diet book, last published in 1987, remains popular among patients with MS. However, this approach to treating MS has never been subjected to a well-controlled clinical trial.

The supposed large clinical effect of the Swank low fat diet led to our hypothesis that a very-low-fat, plant-based diet might have a large effect on MRI activity. We conducted a pilot study to explore the tolerability and potential benefits of a very-low saturated fat, plant-based diet followed for 12 months by people with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) with the primary endpoint being brain MRI disease activity.

 

Study suggests antibody may have therapeutic effect on MS

Researchers have developed an antibody with potential therapeutic effects against multiple sclerosis. The discovery opens up a new strategy for controlling the disease.

For the cells of the immune system circulating in the bloodstream to reach the central nervous system, they must penetrate the blood-brain barrier and blood-spinal cord barrier. During previous work, the authors studied a factor involved in opening the blood-brain barrier, the NMDA receptor. They found that blocking the interaction of this receptor with tPA has beneficial effects linked with maintaining the integrity of the barrier.

Scientists at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, in France, developed a monoclonal antibody (Glunomab) directed against the specific site on the NMDA receptor to which tPA binds. In cellular models of the human blood-brain and blood-spinal cord barriers, the use of this antibody prevented opening of the barrier under inflammatory conditions, limiting the entry of lymphocytes. The team then tested the therapeutic effects of the antibody in an experimental mouse model of MS. After intravenous injection of Glunomab, the progression of partial or total paralysis of the limbs – as assessed by a clinical score – was blocked. In these treated mice, this effect was linked with reduced infiltration of lymphocytes into the nervous tissue, and reduced demyelination.

Results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans and may be years away from being a marketable treatment. However, the authors argue that by preventing myelin destruction by the cells of the immune system, this strategy might represent a promising therapy for the control of MS.

The study was published in the journal Brain.

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