What is the impact of Vitamin D on the complicated course of MS?

Some general neurologists get away with not having to think too much about multiple sclerosis (MS). This is because they have an ‘MSologist‘ at hand to refer all their patients with ‘demyelination‘. Many general neurologists however care for people with MS because they do not have a ‘fallback guy‘ to do the heavy lifting for them. This therefore makes it imperative for neurologists to keep up with everything about this often disabling and distressing disorder.

MS prevalence map. By AdertOwn work and [1], CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
The management of MS is however very tricky, and it is challenging to get a grip of it all. This is partly because the clinical course is varied, and the diagnostic process tortuous. The patient first goes through an onerous retinue of tests which include an MRI, a lumbar puncture, evoked potentials, and a shedload of blood tests. This is all in a bid to secure the diagnosis and to exclude all possible MS mimics.

MRI scan. NIH Image Galley on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nihgov/30805879596

Then comes the head-scratching phase of determining if the patient actually fulfils the diagnostic criteria for MS, or if they just have clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) and radiologically isolated syndrome (RIS). To secure the diagnosis of MS, the neurologist turns to the McDonald criteria which stipulate dissemination in time and place of inflammatory events. As simple as this should be, this is no easy task at all. This is because, at different times, the criteria have meant different things to different people. The guidelines have also gone through several painful, and often confusing, iterations. Indeed the McDonald criteria have only recently been re-revised-to the delight of MSologists but the chagrin of the general neurologist!

Steampunk Time and Space Machine. Don Urban on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/donpezzano/3230179951

Once the diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) is reasonably established, the patient is taken through a guided tour of the ever-expanding available treatment options. These are typically to prevent relapses, but more recently to prevent disease progression as well. People with mild to moderate MS are nudged towards interferons, glatiramer acetate, dimethylfumarate, or terifluonamide. Those with more aggressive disease, on the other hand, are offered a menu of fingolimod, natalizumab, or alemtuzumab. Other newer agents include daclizumab and cladribine. And, just stepping into the arena, there is ocrelizumab for primary progressive (PPMS). Whichever option is chosen, the course of treatment is long, and it is fraught with risks such as infections and immune suppression.

https://pixabay.com/en/syringe-pill-bottle-morphine-small-1884784/

Once the bigger questions have been settled, the neurologist then braces for the ‘minor’ questions her enlightened patients will ask. The easier questions relate to the treatment of symptoms, and some of the most vexing concern the role of Vitamin D deficiency. Such questions include, ‘Is vitamin D deficiency a cause of MS?‘, ‘Do people who are vitamin D deficient experience a worse outcome?‘, and ‘Should patients with MS be on Vitamin D supplementation?‘.

Pandora’s box. Michael Hensman on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mycael/3664900435

To attempt to resolve these questions I plunged into some of the literature on Vitamin D and MS. And this is like opening Pandora’s box. Here are some of the things I found.

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Is MS associated with Vitamin D deficiency?

It therefore appears that there is an association of vitamin D deficiency with MS, but it is far from certain that this is a causative relationship. One hypothesis is that vitamin D deficiency is the outcome, rather than the cause, of MS. The deficiency presumably results becuase the very active immune system in people with MS mops up the body’s Vitamin D. This so-called reverse causation hypothesis asserts that vitamin D deficiency is a consumptive vitaminopathy

Sunshine Falls. Dawn Ellner on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturesdawn/4299041739

Does Vitamin D deficiency worsen MS progression?

There is therefore no single answer to this question, but the emerging consensus is that Vitamin D deficiency adversely affects the course of MS. 

Milk splash experiment. Endre majoros on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/boneball/24597145866

Should people with MS be on Vitamin D supplementation?

Even if Vitamin D deficiency doesn’t cause MS, the evidence suggests that it negatively influences the course of the disease.

Salmon salad nicoise. Keith McDuffee on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/gudlyf/3609052894

What to do?

This is the million dollar question eloquently posed by a recent editorial in the journal Neurology titled Preventing multiple sclerosis: to (takevitamin D or not to (takevitamin D? The reasonable consensus is to encourage vitamin D replenishment to prevent MS, starting from preconception. It is also generally agreed that people with MS should be on vitamin D supplementation in the expectation that it will slow the disease activity.

A practical approach to Vitamin D replacement is the Barts MS team vitamin D supplementation recommendation. This is to start with 5,000IU/day vitamin D, and aim for a plasma level of 100-250 nmol/L. Depending on the level, the dose is then adjusted, up or down, to between 2-10,000IU/day. They also advise against giving calcium supplementation unless there is associated osteoporosis.

What is a general neurologist to do? To follow the prevailing trend, and hope it doesn’t change direction too soon!

Vitamin D Pills. Essgee51 on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sg51/5224823967

 

What are the remarkable drugs which have transformed the treatment of MS?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common and blighting neurological disease. It frequently targets young people, often with disabling effects. It may affect any part of the central nervous system, and it manifests with relapsing or steadily progressive clinical features.

"Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2" by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) - Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2” by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) – Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Research is improving our understanding of MS at a breathtaking pace. Just as one is getting comfortable with the status quo, a sudden paradigm shift occurs. This is the work of the men and women in white coats, labouring in dingy labs, peering down powerful microscopes, and scrutinising imaging scans-all in the drive to improve the care of people who suffer from this defiant disease. To avoid becoming dinosaurs, neurologists have to keep up with the rapid developments at the cutting-edge of multiple sclerosis.

Blade end of 'Cutting Edge', Sheaf Square. Robin Stott http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2894285
Blade end of ‘Cutting Edge’, Sheaf Square. Robin Stott http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2894285

MS research has enhanced our knowledge of all aspects of the disease. For example, we know a lot more about MS risk factors, as discussed in my previous post titled MS risk factors: the top 6. There is also a lot going on with drug development, as I addressed in my previous blog posts, The emerging progress from the world of MS, and Masitinib, a breakthrough drug shattering neurology boundaries. More importantly, there are many drugs, already in use, which have radically changed neurological practice in a very short time. In this blog post I will review 5 treatments which have already transformed the management of MS.

1. Monoclonal antibodies 

B0007277 Monoclonal antibodies. Anna Tanczos. Wellcome Images on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/5814713820
B0007277 Monoclonal antibodies. Wellcome Images on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/5814713820

It seems a long time ago now when the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) revolved just around interferons and steroids. Since then the monoclonal antibodies have changed the field radically. Drugs such as natalizumab and alemtuzumab are now mainstream, and many other ‘mabs’ have followed fast on their heels. Daclizumab is about to come into clinical practice soon, and ocrelizumab is full of promise for progressive MS, as discussed in this article in Medscape. With the floodgates now fully opened, other ‘mabs’ such as ofatumumab are trooping in fast. Unfortunately not all monoclonal antibodies are making the grade; an example is Opicinumab (anti LINGO-1), touted as a drug that boosts nerve signals, but which latest reports indicate failed to meet up to its high expectations.

2. Fingolimod

By Williamseanohlinger - Created with Spartan'10 softwareon my personal PC, Public Domain, Link
By Williamseanohlinger – Created with Spartan’10 softwareon my personal PC, Public Domain, Link

Fingolimod is the leader in the pack of sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor modulators. It has led the way and has the advantage that it is taken by mouth rather than by injection. It is limited by its risks on heart activity, and must be initiated under close cardiac monitoring. Beyond MS, it may have a wider impact on neurological practice as it is under consideration in the treatment of motor neurone disease (MND). Following quickly behind fingolimod, still in trial stages, are laquinimod, ozanimod, ponesimodsiponimod, and amiselimod. It is still not clear if these drugs will have a similar impact as the monoclonal antibodies, in which case we may end up with the war of the ‘Mabs’ versus the ‘Mods’.

3. Dimethyl fumarate

By Ben Mills - Own work, Public Domain, Link
By Ben MillsOwn work, Public Domain, Link

Dimethyl fumarate is an oral MS drug which works by activating the erythroid-derived 2-like transcriptional pathway. It has the stamp of approval of a Cochrane Database review on account of moderate quality evidence from two randomized clinical trials. It is fairly well-tolerated, mild flushing being the commonest reported side effect. 

4. Terifluonomide

By Jynto (talk) - Own workThis chemical image was created with Discovery Studio Visualizer., CC0, Link
By Jynto (talk) – Own workThis chemical image was created with Discovery Studio Visualizer., CC0, Link

Terifluonomide is another oral drug developed for the treatment of MS. It is a pyrimidine synthesis inhibitor. Unlike dimethyl fumarate, a recent Cochrane database review for terifluonomide found only low-quality evidence from 5 clinical trials. The review says ‘all studies had a high risk of detection bias for relapse assessment, and a high risk of bias due to conflicts of interest‘. Not very glowing tributes, but in its favour is the low frequency of significant side effects.

5. PEGylated interferon

Von Anypodetos - Eigenes Werk, CC0, Link
Von AnypodetosEigenes Werk, CC0, Link

PEG-interferon is an enhancement to good interferons of old (which, by the way, are still on active duty in MS). It was developed to reduce the high frequency of injections associated with Interferon beta-1a. Pegylation is the attachment of polyethylene glycol (PEG), and this process increases the half life of drugs. It is not clear that pegylation offers any other advantage over ‘ordinary’ interferon, but surely the 2 weekly injection is a significant advance. 

Breakthrough VSCO Monochrome Black & White KitCam at Carnegie Museum Of Art. Spiro Bolos on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/spirobolos/15879318128
Breakthrough VSCO Monochrome Black & White KitCam at Carnegie Museum Of Art. Spiro Bolos on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/spirobolos/15879318128

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For the future direction of MS treatment, I recommend Gavin Giovannoni‘s BartsMS Blog.

You may also  check out this recent review in American Health and Drug Benefits titled The Latest Innovations in the Drug Pipeline for Multiple Sclerosis

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Keeping up with the latest practical guidelines in neurology

Neurologists breathe guidelines. And they churn them out at a breathtaking pace. It is extremely difficult keeping up with what’s in, what’s out, and what’s back in again! Often the new guidelines add nothing new, or the important points are buried in sheafs of text justifying the guidelines.

But we can’t get away from them. How then do neurologists keep up, short of becoming paranoid? By becoming obsessive! In developing neurochecklists I had no idea keeping up with the guidelines would be a challenging task because they are released in quick succession. I have looked back to see which are the latest practical guidelines, released in the last 12 months or so. Here they are by disease… but be quick before the guideline-masters revise them…again!

Epilepsy

The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Epilepsy Society published their 1st seizure management guidelines in Neurology. Among the key recommendations are to inform patients of a 2-year recurrence risk of 21-45%, and that a nocturnal seizure is among the usual culprits that increase the risk. The vexing question of whether to treat a 1st unprovoked seizure remains that-vexing.

Not to be outdone, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) released it’s evidence-based guidelines and recommendations for the management of infantile seizures. Published in Epilepsia in late 2015, it shows that Levetiracetam is tops for both focal and generalised seizures. It also confirmed the  hard-earned place of Stiripentol alongside Valproate and Clobazam for Dravet syndrome. It is open access so well-worth a detailed look.

 

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD)

Steroids are now standard treatment in Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy (DMD). A recent practice guideline update on corticosteroids in Duchenne’s highlights this, and it also indicates the strength of evidence for the different benefits. There is Level B evidence that steroids improve strength and lung function, and Level C for  delaying scoliosis and cardiomyopathy. Enough to encourage any doubters out there.

Facio-scapulo-humeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD)

Not one I thought had guidelines, but this FSHD diagnosis and management guidelines turned out to be quite useful. The guidelines address four key areas-diagnosis, predictors of severity, surveillance for complications, and treatment. And if you like flow charts, there is an excellent one here. A lot of helpful tips here for example, subjects with large D4Z4 gene deletions are more prone to earlier and more severe disability, and these patients should be reviewed by a retinal specialist.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most shifty conditions when it comes to guidelines, both diagnostic and management. Take the latest NICE MS guidelines, 39 pages long. All sensible stuff mind you, with time-restricted targets such as 6 weeks for a post-diagnosis follow-up, and 2 weeks to treat a relapse. Mind you, just to keep neurologists on their toes!

MS diagnosis and follow up is often the game of counting lesions on MRI scans. The question of what to count, and when to do so, is addressed in the recent MAGNIMS MS consensus guidelines. More recommendations than guidelines, these did not challenge the sacrosanct MacDonald criteria for dissemination in time, but tinker with dissemination in place. They suggest, for example, that optic nerve lesions be counted. The MAGNIMS consensus guidelines on the use of MRI goes on to stipulate when and how to count lesions throughout the course of MS. Not an easy bedtime read.

Not far behind MAGNIMS, the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) released their revised 2015 guidelines for prescribing disease-modifying treatments in MS. The guidelines classify DMT’s by efficacyAlemtuzumab and Natalizumab triumphing here. We also learn which DMTs to use in different patient groups.

Finally, Neurology published guidelines on rehabilitation in MS. Unfortunately there are quite a few qualifying ‘possibles‘ and ‘probables‘ which water down the strength of most of the recommendations. But what else do we have to go by?

Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)

The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (JNNP) published a review of CIDP in February 2015. It covers everything ”from bench to bedside”, but heavily skewed towards the former. It confirms that CIDP is a “spectrum of related conditions”, great news for splitters, and disappointing for lumpers. I personally struggle with the concepts of sensory and focal CIDP, have never diagnosed CANOMAD, but never tire of listening to Michael Lunn on VEGF, or be fascinated by the links between CIDP and POEMS syndrome. The review, an editors choice, is open access, and is backed by the authority of Richard Hughes; you really have no choice but to read it!

Unruptured intracranial aneurysms

The America Stroke Association (ASA) published new guidelines on management of unruptured aneurysms in a June 2015 issue of Stroke. It gives a comprehensive review of cerebral aneurysms, addressing the “presentation, natural history, epidemiology, risk factors, screening, diagnosis, imaging and outcomes from surgical and endovascular treatment“. It also suffices for a review article. Some recommendations are easily overlooked such as counsel against smoking and monitor for hypertension (evidence level B). Some important recommendations however have weak evidence, for example surveillance imaging after endovascular treatment (evidence level C).

The guidelines still advocate screening if there are 2 or more affected first degree family members. (I confess my threshold is lower than this). The extensive list of at-risk conditions for aneurysms include the usual suspects such as adult polycystic kidney disease and fibromuscular dysplasia. New culprits (at least to me) are microcephalic osteodysplastic primordial dwarfism, Noonan syndrome, and α-glucosidase deficiency.

 

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36822177
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36822177
Stroke 

The American Stroke Association (ASA), along with the American Heart Association (AHA), released their guidelines for the management of spontaneous intracerebral haemorrhage in 2015. There are several additional recommendations to the previous guidelines; these include the recommendation to control hypertension immediately from onset to prevent recurrent haemorrhage.

The ASA/AHA also published their updated guidelines on endovascular stroke therapy in 2015. To to show how important this treatment has become, the debate now is whether to use thrombectomy alone, or after thrombolysis. And the winner is…to use thrombectomy after thrombolysis. The eligibility checklist for endovascular therapy with a stent retriever is thankfully quite short.

Concussion and traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Concussion is a very topical issue, what with Will Smith as Bennett Omalu in the recent movie aptly titled… Concussion. I have previously posted on the effect of celebrities on neurology, but this here is the serious stuff.  Unlike most guidelines, these clinical practice guidelines for concussion/mild traumatic brain injury and persistent symptoms is not open access. Published in Brain Injury, I could only peruse the abstract, and this mentions 93 recommendations! Tempting however is it’s breadth, addressing everything from post-traumatic headache to sleep disturbance; from vestibular to visual dysfunction.

Friedreich's ataxia (FA)

OK, I confess these guideline are from 2014, a bit dated. But how often does one think ‘guidelines’ in the context of Friedreich’s ataxia. Furthermore, this Consensus clinical management guidelines for Friedreich ataxia is open access! Published in Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, they are the product of 39 experts, and consist of 146 recommendations! They cover everything from sleep, spasticity, and scoliosis to diabetes, dysphagia, and dysarthria. I bet you don’t enquire about restless legs syndrome (RLS) in your patients with FA!

Motor neurone disease (MND)

And hot off the press are the NICE guidelines on motor neurone disease (MND). One thing to mention is its sheer volume- 319 pages long, and containing 123 recommendations! The guidelines targets every aspect of MND care, and it’s futile trying to master it all. Each specialist can really only pick and choose which aspect is relevant to them. There is a lot of balancing of clinical and economic benefits, and this is reflected by questions such as “what are the most clinically- and cost-effective methods of maintaining nutrition…?” The guidelines address several long-standing issues such as the clinically appropriate timing for placing PEG tubes. Whether they add anything really new is however debatable.

 

Do you have a recent guideline or update to share? Please leave a comment.

Multiple sclerosis treatment: new kids on the block

Multiple sclerosis is a scourge. It frequently targets the young with devastating, often life-long, effects. It spares no parts of the central nervous system, affecting the brain, spinal cord and major nerves. There are several MS risk factors as discussed in my previous post MS risk factors: the top 6. In this post I address the treatments of MS. There are already several agents available and the most widely used are the Interferons. Other medications are the monoclonal antibodies such as Natalizumab and Alemtuzumab. Oral agents are also gaining ascendance and include Fingolimod and Cladribine. Other drugs include Fumarate and Teriflunomide. This article gives a good overview of MS treatments. The field is however rapidly advancing and I recommend this helpful update.

"Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2" by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) - Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2” by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) – Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

MS however remains an elusive condition to treat. Current treatments may reduce episodes of relapses but seem to do little to stop the progression of the disease. Some new drugs are however breaking the mold.

A highly promising drug is Ocrelizumab. This drug excited the recent European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) as discussed in this article in Medscape. It appears to be highly effective and has the advantage of producing fewer side effects than most other agents.

Anti LINGO-1 is another promising treatment in development. Anti-LINGO 1 seems to repair damaged nerves.

"Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath" by Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg: *Complete_neuron_cell_diagram_en.svg: LadyofHatsderivative work: Andrew c (talk) - Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath” by Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg: *Complete_neuron_cell_diagram_en.svg: LadyofHatsderivative work: Andrew c (talk) – Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Most treatments of MS are directed at the relapsing remitting form but it is hopeful that a new drug, Masitinib, may break the glass ceiling with progressive MS. Masitinib is an oral agent currently in trial stages. This piece from the MS Society gives further details on Masitinib.

Nanotechnology is another development which may be applied to MS treatment. Nanoparticles may be used to deliver antigens that modulate the immune system. So far however, this technology is still in animal trials.

Nanoparticles. Attribution Christopher Johnson and Vilas G. Pol via Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/argonne/3974983988
Nanoparticles. Attribution Christopher Johnson and Vilas G. Pol via Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/argonne/3974983988

 

To keep a tab on developments in the MS world I recommend the BartsMS Blog.

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