Steroids and brain atrophy in multiple sclerosis

J Neurol Sci. 2005 Jun 15;233(1-2):73-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2005.03.006.


In this review, we focus on different pathogenetic mechanisms of corticosteroids that induce short- and long-term brain volume fluctuations in a variety of systemic conditions and disorders, as well as on corticosteroid-induced immunomodulatory, immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory mechanisms that contribute to the slowdown of brain atrophy progression in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). It appears that chronic low-dose treatment with corticosteroids may contribute to irreversible loss of brain tissue in a variety of autoimmune diseases. This side effect of steroid therapy is probably mediated by steroid-induced protein catabolism mechanism. Evidence is mounting that high-dose corticosteroids may induce reversible short-term brain volume changes due to loss of intracellular water and reduction of abnormal vascular permeability, without there having been axonal loss. Other apoptotic and selective inhibiting mechanisms have been proposed to explain the nature of corticosteroid-induced brain volume fluctuations. It has been shown that chronic use of high dose intravenous methylprednisolone (IVMP) in patients with MS may limit brain atrophy progression over the long-term via different immunological mechanisms, including downregulation of adhesion molecule expression on endothelial cells, decreased cytokine and matrix metalloproteinase secretion, decreased autoreactive T-cell-mediated inflammation and T-cell apoptosis induction, blood-brain barrier closure, demyelination inhibition and, possibly, remyelination promotion. Studies in nonhuman primates have confirmed that short-term brain volume fluctuations may be induced by corticosteroid treatment, but that they are inconsistent, potentially reversible and probably dependent upon individual susceptibility to the effects of corticosteroids. Further longitudinal studies are needed to elucidate pathogenetic mechanisms contributing to brain volume fluctuations in autoimmune diseases and multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atrophy / etiology
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / etiology
  • Brain Diseases / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy
  • Steroids / adverse effects*
  • Steroids / therapeutic use
  • Time Factors


  • Steroids