Detecting MS Years Before Symptoms Appear?

Summary: A team of researchers found a unique set of biological markers called autoantibodies, in a subset of people who went on to develop multiple sclerosis (MS). In this subset of people, they found these markers can be detected in the blood years before MS symptoms and after MS onset. This research provides further evidence that the biological events involved in MS development may start well before clinical onset. It also provides new tools that could potentially be used in the early detection of MS.

Background:  Antibodies are produced by the immune system to protect against invading bacteria or viruses, but in MS, antibodies mistakenly attack the body’s own tissues (autoantibodies). Identifying autoantibodies or other biomarkers specific to diseases, like MS, can help with early detection, diagnosis, and disease management.

Details: The study analyzed blood samples from the U.S. Department of Defense Serum Repository and included people with MS and healthy controls. Blood samples were taken at the time of entry into active military duty and then one year after MS symptom onset. 

Results: Researchers found that 10% of the people diagnosed with MS in this study had a unique set of autoantibodies that can be detected in the blood years before MS symptoms. The same individuals also had higher levels of another biomarker called neurofilament light chain (NfL) that detects damage to nerve fibres in the blood years before MS onset, suggesting that damage to nerve fibres is taking place very early on in the disease course. These results were validated in separate samples taken from a different group of people with MS and were able to accurately predict MS onset. While we do not understand what causes the immune system to produce these specific autoantibodies, researchers believe that it could be linked to exposure to common viruses or bacteria, such as Epstein-Barr virus. 

Impact: This study is the first to identify a set of MS-specific autoantibodies that can be detected in the blood years before the first clinical signs of MS. These results could lead to the development of new tools that can be used to identify people at high-risk of MS and allow for timely intervention with the potential to improve the disease course.  More research is needed to understand why only 10% of those with MS had this unique set of autoantibodies, and to further validate these biomarkers before they are routinely used in clinical care.


Article published in: Nature Medicine on April 19, 2024 – An autoantibody signature predictive for multiple sclerosis. Link to article – here