Etretinate augments interferon beta-1b effects on suppressor cells in multiple sclerosis

Arch Neurol. 2001 Jan;58(1):87-90. doi: 10.1001/archneur.58.1.87.


Background: Interferon beta treatment is only partially effective in multiple sclerosis (MS) suggesting a potential role for adjunctive therapies. Retinoids can augment the clinical efficacy of type 1 interferons in patients with cancer. We reasoned that the same might hold in MS. Interferon beta-1b added to peripheral blood mononuclear cells in vitro partially reverses the CD8 suppressor cell defect of patients with MS. All-trans retinoic acid added to peripheral blood mononuclear cells from untreated patients with MS or from controls potentiates this ability of interferon beta-1b to augment CD8 suppressor cell function in vitro.

Objective: To determine whether retinoid administration to patients with MS who are being treated with interferon beta-1b augments their CD8 suppressor cell function.

Setting: A university hospital MS clinic.

Participants: Patients with MS who were being treated with interferon beta-1b, 14 patients with secondary progressive MS and 3 patients with relapsing remitting MS.

Results: Seventeen patients with MS received etretinate treatment for up to 6 months. Planned dosing was 10 mg 3 times daily for the first month, 25 mg twice daily for the second and third months, and 10 mg twice daily thereafter. The 25-mg twice daily dose was not well tolerated and of the 14 patients who remained in the phase 1 clinical trial through month 3 dose reduction to 10 mg thrice daily was required in 1 patient and to 10 mg twice daily in 4 patients. Eleven patients completed the trial. Etretinate treatment significantly augmented suppressor function over baseline values at 1, 3, and 6 months. No meaningful change was noted in disability or quality of life over the course of the phase 1 clinical trial. Neuropsychological testing of completers suggested improvement on selected aspects of verbal memory at 6 months compared with baseline values.

Conclusions: Etretinate treatment at a dose of 10 mg twice or three times daily augments suppressor cell function in patients with MS receiving interferon beta-1b. Higher dose etretinate treatment (25 mg twice daily) is poorly tolerated by patients with MS. Even at 10 mg twice daily adverse experiences involving the mucous membranes and the skin become troublesome for some, but not all, patients. Whether pulse therapy or administration of retinoid restricted to the day of interferon beta dosing will also augment suppressor function, while being better tolerated, remains to be determined.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Drug Synergism
  • Etretinate / adverse effects
  • Etretinate / pharmacology*
  • Etretinate / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-beta / pharmacology*
  • Interferon-beta / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Progressive / drug therapy*
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Progressive / immunology
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / drug therapy*
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / immunology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Quality of Life
  • Skin / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / drug effects*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Triglycerides
  • Etretinate
  • Interferon-beta