Background: TREFAMS is an acronym for TReating FAtigue in Multiple Sclerosis, while ACE refers to the rehabilitation treatment methods under study, that is, Aerobic training, Cognitive behavioural therapy, and Energy conservation management. The TREFAMS-ACE research programme consists of four studies and has two main objectives: (1) to assess the effectiveness of three different rehabilitation treatment strategies in reducing fatigue and improving societal participation in patients with MS; and (2) to study the neurobiological mechanisms of action that underlie treatment effects and MS-related fatigue in general.
Methods/design: Ambulatory patients (n = 270) suffering from MS-related fatigue will be recruited to three single-blinded randomised clinical trials (RCTs). In each RCT, 90 patients will be randomly allocated to the trial-specific intervention or to a low-intensity intervention that is the same for all RCTs. This low-intensity intervention consists of three individual consultations with a specialised MS-nurse. The trial-specific interventions are Aerobic Training, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Energy Conservation Management. These interventions consist of 12 individual therapist-supervised sessions with additional intervention-specific home exercises. The therapy period lasts 16 weeks. All RCTs have the same design and the same primary outcome measures: fatigue - measured with the Checklist Individual Strength, and participation - measured with the Impact on Participation and Autonomy questionnaire. Outcomes will be assessed 1 week prior to, and at 0, 8, 16, 26 and 52 weeks after randomisation. The assessors will be blinded to allocation. Pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in serum, salivary cortisol, physical fitness, physical activity, coping, self-efficacy, illness cognitions and other determinants will be longitudinally measured in order to study the neurobiological mechanisms of action.
Discussion: The TREFAMS-ACE programme is unique in its aim to assess the effectiveness of three rehabilitation treatments. The programme will provide important insights regarding the most effective treatment for MS-related fatigue and the mechanisms that underlie treatment response. A major strength of the programme is that the design involves three almost identical RCTs, enabling a close comparison of the treatment strategies and a strong overall meta-analysis. The results will also support clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of MS-related fatigue.
Trial registrations: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN69520623, ISRCTN58583714, and ISRCTN82353628.