Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common, complex neurological disease. The precise aetiology of MS is not yet known, although epidemiological data indicate that both genetic and environmental factors are important. The evidence that the environment acts long before MS becomes clinically evident is well established and suggests the existence of a prodromal phase for the disease. The increasing incidence of MS emphasises the need for strategies to prevent this chronic disorder, and the possibility of a prodrome indicates a window of opportunity to potentially reverse early disease processes before clinical disease becomes evident. Studying a prodrome requires techniques other than clinical observation such as monitoring endophenotypes that result from associated risk factors. However, our current knowledge of causal pathways and endophenotypes in MS is limited. Identifying and studying individuals with a high risk of developing the disease provides a powerful opportunity to understand the MS causal cascade and is highly relevant to strategies that are aimed at preventing this debilitating disease.
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