Blood tests could one day provide an early diagnosis of MS

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An early marker of multiple sclerosis could help doctors figure out who will eventually fall prey to the degenerative nerve disease, a new study says.

In one in 10 cases of MS, the body begins to produce a distinctive set of antibodies in the blood years before symptoms begin to appear, researchers reported April 19 in the journal Naturopathy.

This antibody pattern was 100% predictive of an MS diagnosis, researchers found. Every patient who carried this set of antibodies went on to develop MS.

Researchers hope that these antibodies will one day form the basis of a simple blood test to screen for MS.

“Over the past few decades, there has been a movement in the field to treat MS earlier and more aggressively with newer, more powerful therapies,” said senior researcher Dr. Michael Wilson, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). .

“A diagnostic result like this makes such early intervention more likely, giving patients hope for a better life,” Wilson added in a press release.

MS occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the central nervous system and damages the protective covering around nerve fibers called myelin. This disrupts signals to and from the brain, causing a variety of symptoms that impair the senses and affect movement.

An autoimmune disease such as MS is thought to result in part from rare immune responses to common infections, researchers said.

For this study, researchers screened blood samples from 250 MS patients collected before and after their diagnosis and compared them with blood samples from healthy people.

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All samples come from members of the U.S. Armed Forces, who provide blood samples when they sign up for the military.

It was “a phenomenal cohort of individuals to look at to see how this type of autoimmunity develops over the course of the clinical onset of this disease,” said lead researcher Colin Zamecnik, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSF.

The researchers thought they would see a jump in antibodies when the MS patients suffered the first symptoms of the disease.

Instead, they found that 10% of MS patients had markedly high levels of autoantibodies – antibodies that can attack the body itself – for years before their diagnosis.

The dozen or so autoantibodies highlighted by the researchers all adhered to a chemical pattern similar to that of common viruses. This includes the Epstein-Barr virus, which infects more than 85% of all people and has been identified in previous studies as a possible cause of MS.

Essentially, this 10% of MS patients showed signs of an immune war raging in the brain years before diagnosis, researchers said. These patients also had elevated levels of a protein released when neurons break down.

To confirm their findings, researchers analyzed blood samples from patients in another study of neurological symptoms. Again, 10% of patients diagnosed with MS had the same autoantibody pattern.

“Diagnosis is not always straightforward for MS because we have not had disease-specific biomarkers,” Wilson explains. “We’re happy to have something that can provide earlier diagnostic certainty so we can have a concrete discussion about whether we should initiate treatment for every patient.”

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It’s still not clear what causes MS in the remaining 90% of patients, but researchers think they now have a definitive early warning sign that the disease is developing.

“Imagine if we could diagnose MS before some patients reach the clinic,” says senior researcher Dr. Stephen Hauser, director of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “It increases our chances of moving from oppression to healing.”

More information:
Colin R. Zamecnik et al., An autoantibody signature predictive of multiple sclerosis, Naturopathy (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41591-024-02938-3

The National MS Society has more about it multiple sclerosis.

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Quote: Blood test could one day diagnose early MS (2024, April 27) retrieved April 27, 2024 from

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