Multiple sclerosis and Neuroimmunological disorders

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating disease and is the most common autoimmune disorder affecting the central nervous system in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a range of signs and symptoms, including physical, mental, and sometimes psychiatric problems. Specific symptoms can include double vision, blindness in one eye, muscle weakness, trouble with sensation, or trouble with coordination. MS takes several forms, with new symptoms either occurring in isolated attacks (relapsing forms) or building up over time (progressive forms). Between attacks, symptoms may disappear completely; however, permanent neurological problems often remain, especially as the disease advances.

While the cause is not clear, the underlying mechanism is thought to be either destruction by the immune system or failure of the myelin-producing cells. Proposed causes for this include genetics and environmental factors such as being triggered by a viral infection. MS is usually diagnosed based on the presenting signs and symptoms and the results of supporting medical tests.

Signs & Symptoms

A person with MS can have almost any neurological symptom or sign, with autonomic, visual, motor, and sensory problems being the most common. The specific symptoms are determined by the locations of the lesions within the nervous system, and may include loss of sensitivity or changes in sensation such as tingling, pins and needles or numbness, muscle weakness, blurred vision, very pronounced reflexes, muscle spasms, or difficulty in moving; difficulties with coordination and balance (ataxia); problems with speech or swallowing, visual problems (nystagmus, optic neuritis or double vision), feeling tired, acute or chronic pain, and bladder and bowel difficulties, among others. Difficulties thinking and emotional problems such as depression or unstable mood are also common. Uhthoff's phenomenon, a worsening of symptoms due to exposure to higher than usual temperatures, and Lhermitte's sign, an electrical sensation that runs down the back when bending the neck, are particularly characteristic of MS.


Multiple sclerosis is typically diagnosed based on the presenting signs and symptoms, in combination with supporting medical imaging and laboratory testing. It can be difficult to confirm, especially early on, since the signs and symptoms may be similar to those of other medical problems. The McDonald criteria, which focus on clinical, laboratory, and radiologic evidence of lesions at different times and in different areas, is the most commonly used method of diagnosis.

Clinical data alone may be sufficient for a diagnosis of MS if an individual has had separate episodes of neurological symptoms characteristic of the disease. In those who seek medical attention after only one attack, other testing is needed for the diagnosis. The most commonly used diagnostic tools are neuroimaging, analysis of cerebrospinal fluid and evoked potentials. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and spine may show areas of demyelination (lesions or plaques). Gadolinium can be administered intravenously as a contrast agent to highlight active plaques and, by elimination, demonstrate the existence of historical lesions not associated with symptoms at the moment of the evaluation. Testing of cerebrospinal fluid obtained from a lumbar puncture can provide evidence of chronic inflammation in the central nervous system. The cerebrospinal fluid is tested for oligoclonal bands of IgG on electrophoresis, which are inflammation markers found in 75–85% of people with MS. The nervous system in MS may respond less actively to stimulation of the optic nerve and sensory nerves due to demyelination of such pathways. These brain responses can be examined using visual- and sensory-evoked potentials.


Currently, the United States National Multiple Sclerosis Society describes four types of MS:

  • Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)
  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)
  • Primary progressive MS (PPMS)
  • Secondary progressive MS (SPMS)

Relapsing-remitting MS is characterized by unpredictable relapses followed by periods of months to years of relative quiet (remission) with no new signs of disease activity. Deficits that occur during attacks may either resolve or leave problems, the latter in about 40% of attacks and being more common the longer a person has had the disease. This describes the initial course of 80% of individuals with MS.[5] When deficits always resolve between attacks, this is sometimes referred to as benign MS, although people will still build up some degree of disability in the long term. On the other hand, the term malignant multiple sclerosis is used to describe people with MS having reached significant level of disability in a short period. The relapsing-remitting subtype usually begins with a clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). In CIS, a person has an attack suggestive of demyelination, but does not fulfill the criteria for multiple sclerosis. 30 to 70% of persons experiencing CIS later develop MS.

Primary progressive MS occurs in approximately 10–20% of individuals, with no remission after the initial symptoms. It is characterized by progression of disability from onset, with no, or only occasional and minor, remissions and improvements. The usual age of onset for the primary progressive subtype is later than of the relapsing-remitting subtype. It is similar to the age that secondary progressive usually begins in relapsing-remitting MS, around 40 years of age.

Secondary progressive MS occurs in around 65% of those with initial relapsing-remitting MS, who eventually have progressive neurologic decline between acute attacks without any definite periods of remission. Occasional relapses and minor remissions may appear. The most common length of time between disease onset and conversion from relapsing-remitting to secondary progressive MS is 19 years.


Although there is no known cure for multiple sclerosis, several therapies have proven helpful. The primary aims of therapy are returning function after an attack, preventing new attacks, and preventing disability.

Acute attacks

During symptomatic attacks, administration of high doses of intravenous corticosteroids, such as methylprednisolone, is the usual therapy, with oral corticosteroids seeming to have a similar efficacy and safety profile. Although, in general, effective in the short term for relieving symptoms, corticosteroid treatments do not appear to have a significant impact on long-term recovery. The consequences of severe attacks that do not respond to corticosteroids might be treatable by plasmapheresis.

Disease-modifying treatments

Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis

As of 2017, eleven disease-modifying medications have been approved by regulatory agencies for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). They are interferon beta-1a, interferon beta-1b, glatiramer acetate, mitoxantrone, natalizumab, fingolimod, teriflunomide, dimethyl fumarate, alemtuzumab, daclizumab, and ocrelizumab.

Their cost effectiveness as of 2012 is unclear. In May 2016 the FDA approved daclizumab for the treatment of relapsing multiple sclerosis in adults, with requirements for post marketing studies and submission of a formal risk evaluation and mitigation strategy. In March 2017 the FDA approved ocrelizumab, a humanized anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody, as a treatment for RRMS, with requirements for several Phase IV clinical trials.

In RRMS they are modestly effective at decreasing the number of attacks. The interferons and glatiramer acetate are first-line treatments and are roughly equivalent, reducing relapses by approximately 30%.

Early-initiated long-term therapy is safe and improves outcomes. Natalizumab reduces the relapse rate more than first-line agents; however, due to issues of adverse effects is a second-line agent reserved for those who do not respond to other treatments or with severe disease. Mitoxantrone, whose use is limited by severe adverse effects, is a third-line option for those who do not respond to other medications. Treatment of clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) with interferons decreases the chance of progressing to clinical MS. Efficacy of interferons and glatiramer acetate in children has been estimated to be roughly equivalent to that of adults. The role of some newer agents such as fingolimod, teriflunomide, and dimethyl fumarate, as of 2011, is not yet entirely clear.

As of 2017, rituximab was widely used off-label to treat RRMS.

Progressive multiple sclerosis

As of 2017, rituximab has been widely used off-label to treat progressive primary MS. In March 2017 the FDA approved ocrelizumab, as a treatment for primary progressive MS, the first drug to gain that approval, with requirements for several Phase IV clinical trials.

As of 2011, only one medication, mitoxantrone, has been approved for secondary progressive MS. In this population tentative evidence supports mitoxantrone moderately slowing the progression of the disease and decreasing rates of relapses over two years.