Overlapping and distinct mechanisms of action of multiple sclerosis therapies

J. J. Graber, C. A. McGraw, D. Kimbrough, S. Dhib-Jalbut

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


In the last two decades MS has changed from an idiopathic condition with only symptomatic treatments to a disease with better characterized pathophysiologic underpinnings and several treatments that modify its long-term course based on specific mechanisms of action. There are now several FDA approved options for therapy at the onset of disease, and discussions have begun on choosing the best treatment in individual patients and what option to choose next in patients who are failing their current treatment. Numerous studies have begun to highlight that the underlying pathology of CNS damage may be different in subsets of patients, raising the possibility that some may respond to a treatment with a mechanism of action that is targeted to 'their' MS. Trials are ongoing of numerous new agents with different mechanisms of action and some combination therapies. A better understanding of how each therapy works may guide decisions on initiating, combining or changing therapy in a more rational way to improve patient outcomes. Further knowledge of underlying mechanisms of disease in different patients with 'the same' disease may lead to more targeted therapies, as will biomarkers that predict clinical response to therapy. Studies of the effects of various agents used in MS reveal both overlapping and distinct mechanisms of actions that may be relevant to their efficacy and side effects in individual patients. However, it is important to remember that most agents are approved based on their reduction of MRI lesions and relapse rates over a short time frame. These measures only partially correlate with long-term disability, which may be the most relevant clinical outcome for people with MS. Fixed disability requires years to become apparent, and there is a lack of large studies of biomarkers for chronic outcomes. In addition, few large studies correlate response to therapy with cognitive outcomes, which are a major cause of chronic disability. This review will attempt to summarize clinically relevant knowledge of the mechanisms of action of current FDA approved therapies for MS in the context of ongoing clinical trials of combination therapy and address rational approaches to changing therapy in a patient suspected to be 'unresponsive' to their current treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)583-591
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Neurology and Neurosurgery
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Combination therapy
  • Glatiramer acetate
  • Interferon-beta
  • Mechanism of action
  • Mitoxantrone
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Natalizumab

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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