• Press Release

Mount Sinai Researchers Identify Molecular Changes in the Brain that May Increase Risk for Multiple Sclerosis

First genome-wide study in brain tissue from MS patients.

  • New York
  • (November 25, 2013)

Researchers have long suspected that a combination of genetic and environmental factors conspire in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that strips nerve cells of their protective myelin sheath. A new study, published today in the online issue of Nature Neuroscience, highlights some of the molecular pathways critical to the onset and progression of this disease.

The study, led by genomics experts at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, was the first to identify so-called epigenetic changes – modifications to our DNA caused by environmental factors such as diet or exposure to chemicals – across the entire genome. Epigenetic changes have been shown to influence the expression and function of genes.

"Previous studies have linked environmental factors, such as vitamin D levels and oxidative stress, to MS," said lead investigator Patrizia Casaccia, MD, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Genetics and Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "But earlier research was limited in terms of scope and focus. By looking for epigenetic changes across the entire genome, we were able to identify molecular pathways that are involved in the disease process."

The investigators used a sophisticated microarray to analyze levels of DNA methylation, an epigenetic modification that regulates gene function, in post-mortem, disease-free brain tissue from patients who had MS and from people who did not have the disease. The analysis, led by Andrew Sharp, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics and Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine, revealed that tissue from MS patients had undergone a variety of subtle epigenetic changes that inhibit the formation of myelin and increase inflammation.

"Although subtle, these changes are significant in terms of their ability to increase a patient's risk for MS," said Dr. Sharp. "Looking at healthy brain tissue was critical to ensuring that the changes we observed were not due to the disease process itself."

"This study clearly demonstrates that the brains of MS patients harbor molecular changes, likely caused by environmental factors, that increase their susceptibility to the disease," said Dr. Casaccia. "Our findings constitute a disease signature that MS researchers can target to develop more effective medications for people with this neurological disease."

About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with more than 43,000 employees working across eight hospitals, over 400 outpatient practices, nearly 300 labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time — discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 7,300 primary and specialty care physicians; 13 joint-venture outpatient surgery centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and more than 30 affiliated community health centers. We are consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report's Best Hospitals, receiving high "Honor Roll" status, and are highly ranked: No. 1 in Geriatrics and top 20 in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Neurology/Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pulmonology/Lung Surgery, Rehabilitation, and Urology. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked No. 12 in Ophthalmology. U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” ranks Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital among the country’s best in several pediatric specialties.

For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.