New biomarker for disease progression in MS

February 09, 2023
The autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis can take a variety of courses. Determining the current and future course of the disease is important in order to slow down its course as much as possible. Researchers have presented a biomarker whose values in the blood allow such predictions.

The researchers focused on a cell component that is measurable in the blood and is characteristic of a certain type of brain cell. These cells, called astrocytes, play a key role in MS processes. The blood level of this cellular component, called glial fibrillary acidic protein, increases when astrocytes are activated or damaged. The new study shows that elevated GFAP blood levels can indicate both current and future progression of MS. Their results are based on Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Cohort data.

In a short space of time, researchers at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel have presented a second biomarker that can support therapy decisions in MS. Last year, the research team demonstrated that some persons with MS with an apparently stable disease course had high blood levels of the neurofilament light chain biomarker. NfL specifically indicates neuronal damage.

These people had a significantly higher probability of presenting symptoms caused by MS in the following year. Since NfL sensitively predicts disease activity at an early stage, these patients can now be treated in a more targeted, proactive manner.

Compared with NfL, the GFAP blood marker allows conclusions to be drawn about a different aspect of the complex pathophysiology of MS. Although increased NfL blood values indicate neuronal damage, GFAP in blood specifically indicates chronic disease processes in which astrocytes are involved and contribute to gradual progressive disability.

The study’s authors said GFAP and NfL complement each other and can help in making MS therapy more individually tailored and forward-looking. These outcomes of biomarker research bring both potential therapy monitoring and prognosis, as well as research on disease origins, a big step forward.

The Swiss MS Cohort has been initiated and managed from Basel since 2012. The SMSC includes data from more than 1,600 patients from eight Swiss centers. It documents data from more than 13,000 visits performed and documented in a standardized way and almost 1,000 prospective MS relapses. It also includes around 8,000 standardized and evaluated MRI examinations.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

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