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MS Clues Found in Blood

Serum microRNAs may serve as biomarkers for multiple sclerosis

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MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules that influence basic cellular processes and have been proposed as biomarkers for the diagnosis, progression and treatment of multiple sclerosis.

In a new study conducted at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School researchers have found that serum microRNAs are linked to MRI findings in the brain and spinal cord in patients with MS.

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These findings suggest that microRNAs could serve as promising biomarkers for monitoring the progression of MS and could help to identify distinct underlying disease processes, such as inflammation and tissue destruction.

The research was published on Jan. 23 in JAMA Neurology.

In a large study, researchers examined the connection between serum microRNAs and MRI measures taken to evaluate the severity of patients’ MS, which included looking at lesions and atrophy, a measure of degeneration of the cells in the central nervous system. The researchers found that the expression of certain microRNAs was linked to the MRI measures.

These associations, the study suggests, could be protective or harmful to patients (depending upon the function of the microRNA). They also found that different mechanisms were linked to different locations of MS changes, such as in the brain or spinal cord. Additionally, the study suggested certain sets of microRNAs were linked to lesions, while others were linked to atrophy, which is known to have more devastating effects.

“These findings tell us the disease is heterogeneous. There’s a complex set of mechanisms at play, and it may vary from patient to patient,” said senior co-author Rohit Bakshi, the HMS Jack, Sadie and David Breakstone Professor of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s. “Another implication of this research is that it could eventually lead to us having a blood test to identify the subtype of MS in a patient, to help guide therapeutic decisions and prognosis,” said Bakshi, who is also HMS professor of radiology at Brigham and Women’s.

“MicroRNAs could serve as biomarkers of the underlying MS disease processes, once validated and standardized for clinical settings. In addition, these markers have the potential to provide novel treatment targets,” said Roopali Gandhi, senior co-author and HMS assistant professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s.  

Adapted from a Brigham and Women’s news release.