Newswise — August 21, 2018, Cleveland: Cleveland Clinic researchers have discovered a new subtype of multiple sclerosis (MS), providing a better understanding of the individualized nature of the disease.
MS has long been characterized as a disease of the brain’s white matter, where immune cells destroy myelin – the fatty protective covering on nerve cells. The destruction of myelin (called demyelination) was believed to be responsible for nerve cell (neuron) death that leads to irreversible disability in patients with MS.
However, in the new findings, a research team led by Bruce Trapp, Ph.D., identified for the first time a subtype of the disease that features neuronal loss but no demyelination of the brain’s white matter. The findings, published in The Lancet Neurology, could potentially lead to more personalized diagnosis and treatments.
This new subtype of MS, called myelocortical MS (MCMS), was indistinguishable from traditional MS on MRI. The researchers observed that in MCMS, part of the neurons become swollen and look like typical MS lesions indicative of white matter myelin loss on MRI. The disease was only diagnosed in post-mortem tissues.
The team’s findings support the concept that neurodegeneration and demyelination can occur independently in MS and underscore the need for more sensitive MRI imaging techniques for evaluating brain pathology in real time and monitoring treatment response in patients with the disease.
“This study opens up a new arena in MS research. It is the first to provide pathological evidence that neuronal degeneration can occur without white matter myelin loss in the brains of patients with the disease,” said Trapp, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute Department of Neurosciences. “This information highlights the need for combination therapies to stop disability progression in MS.”
In the study of brain tissue from 100 MS patients who donated their brains after death, the researchers observed that 12 brains did not have white matter demyelination. They compared microscopic tissue characteristics from the brains and spinal cords of 12 MCMS patients, 12 traditional MS patients and also individuals without neurological disease. Although both MCMS and traditional MS patients had typical MS lesions in the spinal cord and cerebral cortex, only the latter group had MS lesions in the brain white matter.
Despite having no typical MS lesions in the white matter, MCMS brains did have reduced neuronal density and cortical thickness, which are hallmarks of brain degeneration also observed in traditional MS. Contrary to previous belief, these observations show that neuronal loss can occur independently of white matter demyelination.
“The importance of this research is two-fold. The identification of this new MS subtype highlights the need to develop more sensitive strategies for properly diagnosing and understanding the pathology of MCMS,” said Daniel Ontaneda, M.D., clinical director of the brain donation program at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center for Treatment and Research in MS. “We are hopeful these findings will lead to new tailored treatment strategies for patients living with different forms of MS.”
Dr. Trapp is internationally known for his work on mechanisms of neurodegeneration and repair in MS and has published more than 240 peer-reviewed articles and 40 book chapters. He also holds the Morris R. and Ruth V. Graham Endowed Chair in Biomedical Research. In 2017 he received the prestigious Outstanding Investigator award by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to examine the biology of MS and to seek treatments that could slow or reverse the disease.
This study was supported in part by grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH) (# P50NS38667 and # R35NS09730) and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
About Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 52,000 employees are more than 3,600 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 14,000 nurses, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic’s health system includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 11 regional hospitals, more than 150 northern Ohio outpatient locations – including 18 full-service family health centers and three health and wellness centers – and locations in Weston, Fla.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2017, there were 7.6 million outpatient visits, 229,000 hospital admissions and 207,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.
About the Lerner Research Institute
Lerner Research Institute is home to Cleveland Clinic's laboratory, translational and clinical research. Its mission is to promote human health by investigating in the laboratory and the clinic the causes of disease and discovering novel approaches to prevention and treatments; to train the next generation of biomedical researchers; and to foster productive collaborations with those providing clinical care. Lerner researchers publish more than 1,500 articles in peer-reviewed biomedical journals each year. Lerner's total annual research expenditure was $260 million in 2016 (with $140 million in competitive federal funding, placing Lerner in the top five research institutes in the nation in federal grant funding). Approximately 1,500 people (including approximately 200 principal investigators, 240 research fellows, and about 150 graduate students) in 12 departments work in research programs focusing on heart and vascular, cancer, brain, eye, metabolic, musculoskeletal, inflammatory and fibrotic diseases. Lerner has more than 700,000 square feet of lab, office and scientific core services space. Lerner faculty oversee the curriculum and teach students enrolled in the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University - training the next generation of physician-scientists. Institute faculty also participate in multiple doctoral programs, including the Molecular Medicine PhD Program, which integrates traditional graduate training with an emphasis on human diseases. Lerner is a significant source of commercial property, generating 64 invention disclosures, 15 licenses, 121 patents and one new spinoff company in 2016. Visit us at http://www.lerner.ccf.org. Follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/CCLRI.