Objective

To identify biomarkers associated with the development of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients treated with natalizumab (NTZ).

Methods

Relapsing–remitting MS patients who developed PML under NTZ therapy (pre-PML) and non-PML NTZ-treated patients (NTZ-ctr) were included in the study. Cryopreserved peripheral blood mononuclear cells and serum samples collected at baseline, at 1- and 2-year treated time points, and during PML were analyzed for gene expression by RNA sequencing and for serum protein levels by Luminex and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, respectively.

Results

Among top differentially expressed genes in the RNA sequencing between pre-PML and NTZ-ctr patients, pathway analysis revealed a high representation of genes belonging to the following categories: proangiogenic factors (MMP9, VEGFA), chemokines (CXCL1, CXCL5, IL8, CCL2), cytokines (IL1B, IFNG), and plasminogen- and coagulation-related molecules (SERPINB2, PLAU, PLAUR, TFPI, THBD). Serum protein levels for these candidates were measured in a 2-step manner in a screening cohort and a validation cohort of pre-PML and NTZ-ctr patients. Only matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9) was validated; in pre-PML patients, MMP9 protein levels were significantly reduced at baseline compared with NTZ-ctr patients, and levels remained lower at later time points during NTZ treatment.

Interpretation

The results from this study suggest that the proangiogenic factor MMP9 may play a role as a biomarker associated with the development of PML in MS patients treated with NTZ. Ann Neurol 2017;82:186–195.

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