Inflammation drives the loss of brain volume and thinning of the eye’s retina in the first five years of a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis, an imaging study demonstrates.
The findings support a therapeutic strategy of halting inflammatory activity during this initial period.
The study, “Retinal and brain damage during multiple sclerosis course: inflammatory activity is a key factor in the first 5 years,” was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
MS is caused by the immune system attacking the myelin sheath, the protective coating around nerve fibers called axons. This results in inflammation that further damages axons (axonal loss), leading to neuron degeneration and clinical disability.
New methods using imaging techniques to measure axon damage have helped in the understanding of MS disease progression, such as MRI to quantify brain volume, or optical coherence tomography (OCT) to determine the thickness of the eye retina.
In the study, researchers based at the University of Barcelona used MRI and OCT to measure the impact of local (focal) inflammation on axon damage in 161 people with MS who had been followed for at least five years.
“Understanding the drivers of neuro-axonal injury and in particular, the role of focal inflammation, a treatable feature of the disease, is paramount to the design of therapeutic strategies,” the researchers wrote.
Participants were part of the Barcelona MS-Visualpath cohort who underwent annual neurological, ophthalmological (eye), and MRI examinations for up to three years, then bi-annually after.
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