The conundrum of iron in multiple sclerosis – time for an individualised approach

Janse Van Rensburg, Susan ; Kotze, Maritha J. ; Van Toorn, Ronald (2012-03)

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Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Although the involvement of immune mechanisms in multiple sclerosis (MS) is undisputed, some argue that there is insufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that MS is an autoimmune disease, and that the difference between immune- and autoimmune disease mechanisms has yet to be clearly delineated. Uncertainties surrounding MS disease pathogenesis and the modest efficacy of currently used disease modifying treatments (DMTs) in the prevention of disability, warrant the need to explore other possibilities. It is evident from the literature that people diagnosed with MS differ widely in symptoms and clinical outcome - some patients have a benign disease course over many years without requiring any DMTs. Attempting to include all patients into a single entity is an oversimplification and may obscure important observations with therapeutic consequences. In this review we advocate an individualised approach named Pathology Supported Genetic Testing (PSGT), in which genetic tests are combined with biochemical measurements in order to identify subgroups of patients requiring different treatments. Iron dysregulation in MS is used as an example of how this approach may benefit patients. The theory that iron deposition in the brain contributes to MS pathogenesis has caused uncertainty among patients as to whether they should avoid iron. However, the fact that a subgroup of people diagnosed with MS show clinical improvement when they are on iron supplementation emphasises the importance of individualised therapy, based on genetic and biochemical determinations.

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