One study confirms that multiple sclerosis is a unique disease, although all the symptoms and courses of the disease observed in patients are produced by the same underlying mechanisms that damage nerve cells over time. Thanks to a mathematical model, experts point out that, although it may follow different patterns, the pathology will worsen for all those affected.
Scientists from the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) maintain that multiple sclerosis, which has very varied symptoms and progression in different patients, is nonetheless a unique disease with common mechanisms. The results of his study are published this week in Plos Computational Biology.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system disrupts the function of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. This can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including blurred vision, memory problems and paralysis, among others. The symptoms and patterns of their progression over time may vary among patients, leading to the suggestion that MS may actually consist of two or more different pathologies.
Thus, the researchers – with Ekaterina Kotelnikova as the first author – formulated the hypothesis that MS is a single disease with multiple results in patients, all driven by the same common biological mechanism: the attack of the immune system on the fibers that protect nerve cells and the loss of axons, used by nerve cells to communicate with each other.
To explore this hypothesis, the authors developed a mathematical model of MS based on experimental data from 66 patients over a period of up to 20 years. Using the model, they were able to perform computational simulations of the different known biological processes involved in the disease.
To validate the model, the scientists performed simulations using data from a second group of 120 patients with MS. They discovered that, by changing the intensity of the biological processes involved at different times, they could successfully reproduce the variability in the course of the pathology observed in these patients.
These results support the hypothesis that all symptoms and courses of disease observed in patients are produced by the same underlying mechanisms that damage nerve cells over time. This implies that, although it may follow different patterns, the MS will worsen over time for all those affected.
“This concept has important therapeutic implications and will promote the development of new therapies because it implies that multiple sclerosis will produce a significant disability in all patients if it is had for a sufficient time,” explains Pablo Villoslada, coordinator of the study. “In fact, preventing relapse, although it is very important, will not be enough to achieve good control of the disease,” he concludes.