Axonal degeneration is a major determinant of permanent neurological impairment during multiple sclerosis (MS). Due to the variable course of clinical disease and the heterogeneity of MS lesions, the mechanisms governing axonal degeneration may differ between disease stages. While the aetiology of MS remains elusive, there now exist potential prognostic biomarkers that can predict the conversion to clinically definite MS. Specialized imaging techniques identifying axonal injury and drop-out are becoming established in clinical practice as a predictive measure of MS progression, such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) or diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). However, these imaging techniques are still being debated as predictive biomarkers since controversy surrounds their lesion-specific association with expanded disability status scale (EDSS). A more promising diagnostic measure of axonal degeneration has been argued for the detection of reduced N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) and Creatine ratios via magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging, but again fail with its specificity for predicting actual axonal degeneration. Greater accuracy of predictive biomarkers is therefore warranted and may include CSF neurofilament light chain (NF-L) and neurofilament heavy chain (NF-H) levels, for progressive MS. Furthermore, defining the molecular mechanisms that occur during the neurodegenerative changes in the various subgroups of MS may in fact prove vital for the future development of efficacious neuroprotective therapies. The clinical translation of a combined Na+ and Ca2+ channel blocker may lead to the establishment of a bona fide neuroprotective agent for the treatment of progressive MS. However, more specific therapeutic targets to limit axonal damage in MS need investigation and may include such integral axonal proteins such as the collapsin response mediator protein-2 (CRMP-2), a molecule which upon post-translational modification may propagate axonal degeneration in MS. We highlight the therapeutic candidates that may formulate novel therapeutic strategies to limit axonal degeneration and EDSS during progressive MS.
Lee J, Taghian K, Petratos S. Axonal degeneration in multiple sclerosis: can we predict and prevent permanent disability?Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2014 ;2(1):97. [Epub ahead of print]