Can MS Be Detected by Biomarkers in the Blood? Yes, Study Says

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blood biomarkers of MS

MicroRNAs present in the blood show promise as potential biomarkers of multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study suggests.

The study, titled “Comprehensive Evaluation Of Serum MicroRNAs As Biomarkers In Multiple Sclerosis,” was published by Keren Regev, MD, and colleagues in the journal Neurology.

Human DNA contains the information for the production of proteins necessary for cell function stored in the genes, but it also includes information for the expression of molecules that regulate protein synthesis, such as microRNAs. MicroRNAs, or simply miRs, are able to bind to a mRNA molecule (a copy of the coding information for the production of a corresponding protein) and interfere with the production of that protein. One miR can bind to many different mRNA molecules, which makes miRs powerful regulators of gene expression.

Although miRs are produced within cells, where they exert their function, certain miRs can enterbody fluids like the blood. Because these molecules are highly resistant to degradation, circulating miRs can be ideal candidates in the search for biomarkers that can help in the diagnosis of certain diseases.

To determine whether circulating miRNAs were associated with disease, disease stage, and disability in MS, researchers analyzed blood samples from 26 MS patients and 20 healthy subjects. After an initial observation that more than 650 microRNAs could be detected among participants, researchers then validated the microRNAs found to have a significantly different expression in MS samples by comparing them to an additional population of 58 MS patients, 30 healthy controls, and to 74 samples from participants with other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Results showed a total of seven different microRNAs between MS patients and healthy participants. In particular, expression levels of miR-320a were significantly increased in MS patients, an miR that is thought to regulate genes associated with the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (a barrier that protects the brain by selecting which molecules enter and which don’t).

Moreover, when relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) patients were compared to progressive patients, two miRs presented an association with the progression of the disease, namely miR-27a-3p. Also, 10 different miRs were associated with the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS).

“Of all the miRNAs, miR-486-5p was identified in the largest number of comparisons. It correlates with EDSS,” the authors wrote. “It is upregulated in MS compared to [healthy subjects], to other neurologic diseases, as well as compared to other inflammatory diseases. This particular miRNA was found to be associated with transforming growth factor-β signaling pathways [inflammatory pathways that contribute to the pathology of MS] and is a known tumor suppressive miRNA.”

The team also found that of the 15 unique miRNAs identified in the comparison between the different groups, 12 had already been identified in MS patients but were not known to be present in the blood.

Researchers acknowledged that their analysis may be limited by the fact that the group of participants was small and recruited at one single MS center. The team is now conducting the study in other centers to confirm their results in larger population samples.

“Although additional investigation is required, our study suggested that circulating miRNAs could serve as biomarkers to diagnose MS, monitor disease status, and provide a link to degree of disability accumulated,” they concluded.

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Joana brings more than 8 years of academic research and experience as well as Scientific writing and editing to her role as a Science and Research writer. She also served as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology in Coimbra, Portugal, where she also received her PhD in Health Science and Technologies, with a specialty in Molecular and Cellular Biology.
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  1. Mona el wassefy says:

    Thank you dear joana for keeping us updated with MS diagnosis and treatment. As a clincal pathologist i have a question whats the technique used to asses and identify the different types of mi RNA
    Thank you indeed

  2. Joana Fernandes, PhDJoana Fernandes, PhD says:

    Hello Mona! There is a number of techniques you can use to identify microRNAs in a given sample. In this study, the researchers isolated the RNA from the blood sample using an extraction kit and, after converting it to cDNA, they used it on a plate containing probes for hundreds of microRNAs in separate wells (for qPCR reaction). After the reaction, if you have signal in certain wells, it means your sample had the microRNAs correspondent to those probes!

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