Jose Marques Lopes, PhD, science editor —

José holds a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Porto, Portugal. After postdocs at Weill Connell Medicine and Western University, where he studied the processes driving hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease, he moved on in 2016 to a career in science writing and communication. José is the author of several peer-reviewed papers and a book chapter and has presented his research in numerous international meetings.

Articles by Jose Marques Lopes

Biogen and AbbVie Voluntarily Withdraw Marketing Authorizations for MS Therapy Zinbryta

Biogen and AbbVie have voluntarily withdrawn global marketing authorizations for their relapsing multiple sclerosis therapy Zinbryta (daclizumab) because of serious side effects that include brain inflammation. The Europe Medicine Agency, which oversees medications across the European Union, also released a statement recommending a “immediate suspension” of Zinbryta’s use by patients…

Myelin Loss Can Be Assessed With Innovative Imaging Approach, Study Suggests

A novel imaging approach enables assessment of key nervous system deterioration in multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study in mice suggests. The research, “Development of a PET radioligand for potassium channels to image CNS demyelination,” was published in the journal Scientific Reports. MS is characterized by damage to myelin (a process called demyelination), which is an insulating sheath around axons (the long projections of neurons) that enables effective neuronal communication. As a result, patients experience a variety of symptoms, including muscle stiffness and weakness, fatigue and pain. Although existing MS medications suppress immune responses and reduce flare-ups, none can cure the disease. Despite the importance of demyelination in MS, scientists and clinicians do not currently have a way to directly image myelin damage. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used, but it does not enable the distinction between demyelination and inflammation, which are common in patients with MS. Upon myelin damage, voltage-gated potassium channels (cellular membrane proteins) become exposed. As a result, cells leak potassium, which impairs proper neuronal communication. This prompted researchers to develop a tracer that targets potassium channels. "In healthy myelinated neurons, potassium channels are usually buried underneath the myelin sheath," Brian Popko, PhD, the study’s senior author, said in a press release. Popko is a professor of neurological disorders and director of the Center for Peripheral Neuropathy at The University of Chicago. Exposed potassium channels can be targeted by the MS medication 4-aminopyridine (4-AP; dalfampridine), which partially repairs nerve conduction and mitigates MS symptoms. Using mouse models of MS, the researchers demonstrated that 4-AP binding to potassium channels is greater in demyelinated axons in comparison with well-myelinated axons. The greater binding of 4-AP led to its accumulation in damaged axons. Then, the team evaluated several fluorine-containing derivatives of 4-AP, and found that the most effective in binding to potassium channels was 3-fluoro-4-aminopyridine (3F4AP), which can be labeled with radioactive 18F. This labeling enables detection of demyelinated regions with a novel strategy based in positron emission tomography (PET). "3F4AP is the first tracer whose signal increases with demyelination, potentially solving some of the problems of its predecessors," said Pedro Brugarolas, PhD, first author of the study. Existing PET tracers bind to myelin. This translates to decreases in signal in the presence of myelin loss, “which can be problematic for imaging small lesions” Brugarolas noted. Importantly, the findings in mice were confirmed in monkeys. Experiments showed that the radiolabeled 3F4AP enters the primate brain and accumulates in areas with less myelin. Collectively, “these data indicate that [18F]3-F-4-AP may be a valuable PET tracer for detecting [central nervous system] demyelination noninvasively,” the team wrote. "We think that this PET approach can provide complementary information to MRI which can help us follow MS lesions over time," Popko said. The novel PET strategy enables the evaluation of therapies to repair myelination and also could help assess how much myelin loss is involved in other neurological disorders, such as traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, but also in diseases not commonly linked to demyelination, "such as brain ischemia, psychiatric disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's," Popko concluded.

Non-invasive Brain Stimulation Reduces MS Fatigue, NYU Study Shows

Non-invasive brain stimulation reduces fatigue in multiple sclerosis patients, concludes a study by researchers at New York University. Fatigue is one the most disabling symptoms of MS, affecting roughly 75 percent of people with the disease. Doctors often prescribe drugs to treat narcolepsy, as well as behavior-based treatments and exercise programs, but their benefits have not been consistent. This led scientists to study a technique of brain stimulation called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which had shown positive results in earlier neurology studies, including improvements of cognitive symptoms in MS. In tDCS, doctors place electrodes on the scalp via a headset to apply a low-amplitude electrical current at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — a brain region believed to play a role in fatigue and cognitive symptoms. The technique has been proven safe and tolerable. The NYU study randomly assigned 27 MS patients to receive either tDCS or placebo. Patients got treatment while playing a cognitive game directed at the brain’s processing speed and working memory. Sessions lasted 20 minutes each and took place five days a week, at patients’ homes. Participants reported their level of fatigue after 20 sessions, using a scale known as the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) that grades fatigue on a score of up to 32. A higher score correlates with more fatigue. The results showed a significant 5.6-point drop with tDCS, compared to a 0.9 point increase in the placebo group. Furthermore, patients may benefit from more sessions, since those who underwent 20 sessions reduced fatigue more than those who did only 10. The study also showed that patients with the most fatigue at baseline saw the biggest improvements. Remarkably, many participants reduced their fatigue to near-normal levels, researchers observed. Further studies are needed to ascertain the precise mechanism behind tDCS. Scientists believe it changes the brain’s excitability, which improves connections and facilitates learning. Meanwhile, the study's authors strongly advise MS patients not to try over-the-counter stimulation technologies outside of a reliable research setting. The research team plans to test tDCS in larger clinical trials for MS-related fatigue, motor and cognitive symptoms. Currently, the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at NYU Langone Health is the only one in the United States to offer tDCS to MS patients.

#MSParis2017 – Gilenya Reduces Relapses in Children and Adolescents with MS, Novartis Trial Shows

Gilenya decreased relapses in children and adolescents with multiple sclerosis in the phase 3 PARADIGMS trial, according to the therapy's developer, Novartis. The Swiss company will present the trial's results at the 7th Joint ECTRIMS-ACTRIMS meeting, set for Oct. 25-28 in Paris. The study addressed the safety and efficacy of an oral, once-daily dose of Gilenya in 215 MS patients aged 10 to 17. Participants received 0.5 mg or 0.25 mg of Gilenya, according to their body weight, and results were compared with those of intramuscular Avonex (interferon beta-1a given once weekly). The trial — conducted at 87 sites in 25 countries — was designed in partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the International Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Study Group. Gilenya led to a "clinically meaningful decrease in the number of relapses" over a period of up to two years, compared to Avonex, according to the trial. The safety results of Gilenya matched those observed in previous trials, with adverse events more likely among the Avonex group. Importantly, the PARADIGMS trial is the first-ever randomized, controlled Phase 3 study of a disease-modifying therapy in pediatric MS. No treatment is currently available for children and adolescents with MS. Novartis will now complete a thorough evaluation of the results and later submit Gilenya for approval by regulatory agencies. It will also extend the study to a five-year period.

Sunscreen Compounds Suppress Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms in Mice, Study Reports

Two compounds found in sunscreens suppressed multiple sclerosis symptoms in mice, a study shows. The substances, known as salate derivatives, belong to a class of compounds called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Evidence from the 1970s suggested that higher vitamin D levels from getting more sunlight could reduce the rate of MS. Subsequent studies indicated this was unlikely, however. Researchers who noticed that ultraviolet light suppresses MS in mice hypothesized that this could be the reason for the reduced prevalence of the disease in tropical areas. University of Wisconsin researchers wondered if sunscreen would prevent ultraviolet light from suppressing MS in mice. The team, led by Dr. Hector F. DeLuca, an emeritus professor in the university's Department of Biochemistry, chose six commercially available sunscreens, then exposed the mice to UV radiation. Confirming previous findings, they observed that UV radiation decreased the severity of MS. But, unexpectedly, they discovered that when mice were not receiving ultraviolet light, some of the sunblocks suppressed their MS for up to 30 days anyway. An analysis revealed that the salate derivatives homosalate and octisalate were the sunscreen components responsible for suppressing MS. The two are esters of salicylic acid, a common medication for acne, psoriasis, warts, and dandruff. Further analysis showed that homosalate was able to suppress MS by itself, but octisalate needed to be combined with homosalate to achieve significant results. The team also discovered that the salates' effectiveness depended on the dose. The more that homosalate was applied, the better the result, they said. The only adverse effect of homosalate and octisalate was temporary skin irritation. The study indicated that salate esters' ability to suppress MS is not due to their sunblocking ability per se, because some of the sunscreen brands that did a good job of blocking sunlight did not suppress the disease. Salate derivatives are well-known inhibitors of the enzyme cyclooxygenase, or COX. Because COX-2 has been found in MS lesions, salate derivatives might improve MS by suppressing COX, the researchers said. Overall, “salates may be useful in stopping the progression of MS, and may provide new insight into mechanisms of controlling autoimmune disease,” the researchers concluded.

Long-term Tysabri Treatment Improved Quality of Life and Satisfaction with Therapy in Relapsing MS Patients, Study Finds

Long-term Tysabri (natalizumab) treatment of relapsing multiple sclerosis (RMS) improves physical and mental health and leads to greater satisfaction with therapy, new research shows. The study, ”Long-term natalizumab treatment is associated with sustained improvements in quality of life in patients with multiple sclerosis,” appeared in the journal…

Researchers Find Gene Mutation in Multiple Sclerosis That Runs in Families

A variation in the NLRP1 gene is associated with multiple sclerosis that runs in families, Slovenian researchers report. Their study, “Identification of rare genetic variation of NLRP1 gene in familial multiple sclerosis,” was published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research was led by Dr. Borut Peterlin of Ljubljana University Medical Center's Clinical Institute of Medical Genetics. Scientists believe MS arises from a combination of a person's genetic background and the environment. Although previous studies have suggested that genes are behind MS that runs in families, researchers had yet to confirm that hypothesis. The Slovenian team wanted to identify any genes that were at play in both the MS and malignant melanoma that two siblings had. Although disease surveys indicate the two conditions can occur together, scientists had been unable to identify a shared cause for the two conditions. Interestingly, research has shown a link between a person's susceptibility to MM and a mutation of the NLRP1 gene. And recent studies have indicated that NLRP1 plays a role in the development of MM. The Slovenian team decided to evaluate the association between an NLRP1 mutation and multiple sclerosis in two groups. One consisted of 38 people with MS whose disease ran in the family. The other was 44 people with MS whose disease did not run in their family. Researchers used genomic, molecular biology and immunology measurements to decide whether there was a link between the mutation and MS. They found a connection between the mutation and MS that runs in families. The mutation affects the function of the protein the gene generates — a protein known to be involved in inflammatory processes. Researchers also found other NLRP1 mutations in patients with and without a family history of MS that they believe could be involved in the development of the disease. In addition, the team found evidence of a connection between MS associated with NLRP1 mutations and the development of MM. That evidence involved immune responses to the two conditions. Stimulating the production of immune-system components known as peripheral blood mononuclear cells, or PBMCs, triggered immune responses in MS patients with NLRP1 mutations. The responses included increased production of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-1β. Higher levels of that protein have been found in MM tissue. PBMCs include such immune cells as lymphocytes, monocytes, and macrophages. "IL-1β has been implicated in a variety of inflammatory and neurodegenerative processes occurring in MS,” the researchers wrote. Overall, the findings demonstrated an association between MS running in families and MM, they said. And the genetic link between the two may be the NLRP1 gene mutation, they added. The team said scientists might be able to develop a treatment for MS by finding a way to lower the increased production of IL-1β that NLRP1 mutations trigger.

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