Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★ (some readers have asked for this feature to stay)
How old are you? It depends. You may be aware that there can be a disconnect between your chronological or actual age and your biological age. As ageing or senescence is a biological process driven by metabolic, genomic and environmental factors you can see how there can be a disconnect between the two. As a result, many of us in medicine are beginning to think about unhealthy or accelerated ageing as a disease process. Making ageing a disease will create incentives for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies to invest in ageing R&D with the hope of producing medications or dietary supplements to slow-down or reverse the effects of ageing.
Ageing is important in MS as there is emerging evidence that MS causes premature ageing of the CNS (central nervous system), which means that pwMS are more likely to experience age-related neurodegeneration sooner than they have to and this almost certainly contributes to delayed disability worsening in pwMS.
It is clear that ageing impacts one’s ability to recover from CNS damage. It has been known for some time from clinical and animal studies that remyelination and neuronal plasticity are less efficient as you get older, which is why older pwMS recover from relapses less well than younger people. The animal studies below show that there is real biology behind these observations. Oligodendrocyte (myelin-producing) progenitor cells (OPCs) isolated from the brains of neonate, young and aged female rats show an approximately 50% difference in the levels of proteins they make. Differences were noted in both myelin-associated proteins and proteins that control several metabolic pathways. This study has clinical implications and can act as a read-out for finding drugs that could be used as anti-ageing agents.
There are several interesting biological targets and drugs that already exist for targeting ageing. Metformin, a drug for treating diabetes, is one of the lead compounds going in an MS clinical trial at the moment. It is believed that its antiageing effects of performing are mediated via the so-called NRF2 or programmed cell survival pathway. Interestingly, fumarates (e.g. dimethyl fumarate) and ketogenesis also activate this pathway. Could DMF, and the other fumarates, be the panacea antiageing drug we need for tackling progressive or more advanced MS? Yes, I think so but to convince Biogen to follow the money is proving more difficult than we anticipated. We approached them recently to do a combination DMF-plus trial with another class of drug to augment DMF’s response and they said no. Pity because I think they are missing a trick and an opportunity to create new intellectual property.
Physiological ketosis from caloric restriction, intermittent fasting or low-carbohydrate diets is another way of activating the NRF2 pathway. The biology behind this is probably via β-hydroxybutyrate, a ketone body, which works via the hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 2 (HCA2). Interestingly, this is the same receptor DMF activates.
Other anti-ageing treatments and strategies include exercise and avoiding getting comorbidities, which accelerate ageing, in particular, the metabolic syndrome (obesity, hypertension, glucose intolerance or diabetes) and smoking. The driver of the metabolic syndrome seems to be hyperinsulinaemia and the diets referred to above are all very effective in suppressing or reducing circulating insulin levels.
So in 2021 if you have MS you need to think seriously about what you can do to tackle early and accelerated ageing. Most of the things you can do now involve lifestyle changes, which are often hard to implement. My advice would be to implement the changes slowly and you may find over time that the behavioural changes you make will stick. There is a lot of evidence for this from the field of behavioural psychology.
The above advice is part of the holistic approach to the management of MS I have been pushing for several years and my adoption of the ‘marginal gains philosophy’ for managing MS.
“If we break down everything we can think of that goes into improving MS outcomes, and then improving each by 1%, we will get a large improvement in MS outcome when we put them all together.”
“Ask not what your neurologist and HCP can do for you, but what you can do yourself to optimise your own MS management and long-term MS outcome.”
de la Fuente et al. Changes in the Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cell Proteome with Ageing. Mol Cell Proteomics. 2020 Aug;19(8):1281-1302.
Following central nervous system (CNS) demyelination, adult oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) can differentiate into new myelin-forming oligodendrocytes in a regenerative process called remyelination. Although remyelination is very efficient in young adults, its efficiency declines progressively with ageing. Here we performed proteomic analysis of OPCs freshly isolated from the brains of neonate, young and aged female rats. Approximately 50% of the proteins are expressed at different levels in OPCs from neonates compared with their adult counterparts. The amount of myelin-associated proteins, and proteins associated with oxidative phosphorylation, inflammatory responses and actin cytoskeletal organization increased with age, whereas cholesterol-biosynthesis, transcription factors and cell cycle proteins decreased. Our experiments provide the first ageing OPC proteome, revealing the distinct features of OPCs at different ages. These studies provide new insights into why remyelination efficiency declines with ageing and potential roles for aged OPCs in other neurodegenerative diseases.