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Wanted: Biomarkers for MS. Could MicroRNAs Be the Answer?


A recently published review paper looked at microRNAs, which play a key role in gene expression. Much more research is needed, the researchers concluded, to fill in the gaps of how microRNAs might be used to monitor how people with multiple sclerosis (MS) response to the growing number of MS treatments.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) does not lack for treatments to manage the disease these days, although they are far from a cure. The treatments range from interferon beta medications and Copaxone (glatiramer acetate) to monoclonal antibodies, such as Tysabri (natalizumab), Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), and oral agents such as Mayzent (siponimod) and Mavenclad (cladribine).

How people are responding to these treatments is assessed in a variety of ways, including symptoms of the and MRI imaging of the brain and spinal cord.

But researchers are looking for biomarkers that might lead to more precise and objective monitoring of MS.

In a review paper published recently in IBRO Neuroscience Report, Moisés Manuel Gallardo Pérez and Solón Javier Garcés Eisele, researchers in Puebla, Mexico, delved into using microRNAs (miRNAs) as biomarkers for MS. miRNAs are small (20 nucleotides) RNA molecules that play a key role in the regulation of post-transcriptional making of proteins and, therefore, expression of genes. There are a number of ways to identify miRNA but Perez and Eisele said real-time PCR testing is used most often and is sensitive and specific.

Pérez and Eisele cite research testing miRNA as a biomarker in people with MS who have been treated with interferon beta, Copaxone, Tysabri, Gilenya (fingolimod) and Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate). But they also note the absence of studies of people with MS being treated with Aubagio (teriflunomide), Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), Mayzent and many other drugs. They also discuss how miRNA results may differ depending on whether the sample is from blood or cerebrospinal fluid. If it is a blood sample, it is a preferable to test plasma rather than serum because the platelets in serum may release miRNAs that interfere with the test results.

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