Published: 20-05-2020 22:00 | Updated: 21-05-2020 22:09

Simple blood test may help predict MS progression, study finds

Photo of older man with a cane walking with woman.
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A simple blood test may help predict which people with multiple sclerosis (MS) will get worse during the following year, according to a study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Ali Manouchehrinia
Ali Manouchehrinia Photo: Katharina Fink

“In a disease like MS that is so unpredictable and varies so much from one person to the next, having a simple, noninvasive test like this could be very valuable, especially since treatments are most effective in the earliest stages of the disease,” said Ali Manouchehrinia, assistant professor at the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Karolinska Institutet and the study’s corresponding author.

The blood test looks for a biomarker called neurofilament light chain, a nerve protein that can be detected in the blood when nerve cells die. The researchers tested the level of the biomarker in 4,385 people with MS and 1,026 people matched for age and sex who did not have MS. The participants were followed to see which people with MS experienced increased levels of disability over a period of five years.

Nerve protein linked to MS development

The people with MS had an average of 11.4 picograms per milliliter (pg/ml) of the nerve protein in their blood compared to an average of 7.5 pg/ml for the people who did not have MS. The people with MS with high levels of the protein were 40-70 percent more likely to have worsening disability during the next year than those with low levels of the protein.

These results took into account other factors that could affect their risk of worsening disability, such as how long they had the disease and how often they were having relapses at the start of the study.

“These results suggest that elevated levels of these proteins measured early on in the course of the disease may help us to predict how the disease will develop and monitor how treatment is working” Ali Manouchehrinia says.

The study was supported by the Swedish Municipality and County Council, Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, Biogen, Genzyme, Novartis, Swedish Research Council, European Union and other foundations.

This text is based on a press release from the American Academy of Neurology.


Plasma neurofilament light levels are associated with risk of disability in multiple sclerosis,” Ali Manouchehrinia, Pernilla Stridh, Mohsen Khademi, David Leppert, Christian Barro, Zuzanna Michalak, Pascal Benkert, Jan Lycke, Lars Alfredsson, Ludwig Kappos, Fredrik Piehl, Tomas Olsson, Jens Kuhle, Ingrid Kockum, Neurology, online May 20, 2020.