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Winter 2017



Cervical vertebrae scan showing multiple sclerosis

The small RNA molecules known as microRNAs, which influence basic cellular processes, may be long-awaited biomarkers for the diagnosis, progression, and treatment of multiple sclerosis, according to findings from a study conducted by HMS researchers at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

In research that appeared online January 23 in JAMA Neurology, serum microRNAs were linked to MRI findings in the brain and spinal cord in patients with multiple sclerosis. These findings suggest that microRNAs could serve as biomarkers for monitoring the progression of the disease and for identifying distinct underlying disease processes, such as inflammation and tissue destruction.

The researchers examined the connection between serum microRNAs and MRI measures taken to evaluate the severity of patients’ disease. This included looking at lesions and atrophy, an indication of degeneration of the cells in the central nervous system. The research team found that the expression of certain microRNAs was linked to the MRI measures. They also found that different mechanisms were linked to different locations of disease-related changes, such as in the brain or spinal cord. Additionally, the findings suggested that 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,” says senior co-author Rohit Bakshi, the HMS Jack, Sadie and David Breakstone Professor of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s and an HMS professor of radiology at the hospital. “Another implication of this research is that it could eventually lead to us having a blood test to identify the subtype of multiple sclerosis in a patient and help guide therapeutic decisions and prognosis.”

Image: James Cavallini/Science Source


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