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Prevention of autoimmune attack and disease progression in multiple sclerosis: current therapies and future prospects

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an important cause of progressive neurological disability, typically commencing in early adulthood. There is a need for safe and effective therapy to prevent the progressive central nervous system (CNS) damage and resultant dis­ability that characterize the disease course. Increasing evidence supports a chronic autoimmune basis for CNS damage in MS. In the present study, we review current concepts of autoimmune pathogenesis in MS, assess current therapies aimed at countering auto­immune attack and discuss potential thera­peutic strategies. Among currently available therapies, β‐interferon and glatiramer acetate have a modest effect on reducing relapses and slowing the accumulation of disability in relapsing−remitting MS. β‐­Interferon is of doubtful efficacy in secondary progressive MS and appears to aggravate primary progressive MS, poss­ibly by increasing antibody-mediated CNS damage through inhibition of B-cell apoptosis. Mitoxantrone may reduce relapses and slow disability progression in relapsing−remitting and secondary progressive MS, but its use is limited by the risk of cardio­myopathy. There are currently no effective treatments for primary progressive MS. Many therapies that are effective in the animal model, experimental auto­immune encephalomyelitis (EAE), are either ineffective in MS or − in the case of γ-interferon, lenercept and altered peptide ligands − actually make MS worse. This discrepancy may be explained by the occurrence in MS of defects in immunoregulatory mechanisms, the integrity of which is essential for the efficacy of these treatments in EAE. It is likely that the development of safe, effective therapy for MS will depend on a better understanding of immunoregulatory defects in MS. (Intern Med J 2002; 32: 554−563)

Keywords: antibodies; autoimmunity; drug therapy; experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis; ­multiple sclerosis

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Royal Brisbane Hospital and Department of Neurology, Royal Brisbane Hospital, Herston, Queensland, Australia

Publication date: November 1, 2002


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