Blood levels of a certain protein could indicate multiple sclerosis activity.
Blood levels of the nerve damage marker neurofilament light provide a reliable picture of multiple sclerosis activity in both the relapsing-remitting and progressive forms of the disease, a Swedish study reports.
The University of Gothenburg researchers also discovered a close link between its levels in blood and spinal fluid. This means the marker can be analyzed without a spinal tap.
Another finding was that the factor can distinguish between people with inflammatory neurological diseases such as MS, people with non-inflammatory brain conditions, and healthy people.
Researchers published their study, “Monitoring disease activity in multiple sclerosis using serum neurofilament light protein,” in the journal Neurology.
The marker is a protein found in nerve cells. When the cells become damaged, the protein leaks into the spinal fluid and blood. Researchers are increasingly realizing its value in studying MS activity.
Three hundred seventy-three people took part in the Swedish study — 286 MS patients, 45 people with other neurologic conditions, and 42 healthy controls. The MS group included people in all the disease categories — relapsing-remitting MS, or RRMS; primary progressive MS, or PPMS; and secondary progressive MS, or SPMS.
The MS group had higher levels of the marker than the other two groups in both their blood and spinal fluid, researchers discovered. And the concentrations in blood mirrored those in spinal fluid.
In both RRMS and progressive MS patients, higher levels of the marker indicated more disease activity — in the form of relapses and numbers of inflammatory brain lesions. People with more inflammatory lesions also had higher levels of the marker than those with fewer lesions. Lesions are areas where diminished levels of protective myelin protein cause nerve cell damage.
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