Progressive multiple sclerosis: from pathophysiology to therapeutic strategies

Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2019 Dec;18(12):905-922. doi: 10.1038/s41573-019-0035-2. Epub 2019 Aug 9.


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that involves demyelination and axonal degeneration. Although substantial progress has been made in drug development for relapsing-remitting MS, treatment of the progressive forms of the disease, which are characterized clinically by the accumulation of disability in the absence of relapses, remains unsatisfactory. This unmet clinical need is related to the complexity of the pathophysiological mechanisms involved in MS progression. Chronic inflammation, which occurs behind a closed blood-brain barrier with activation of microglia and continued involvement of T cells and B cells, is a hallmark pathophysiological feature. Inflammation can enhance mitochondrial damage in neurons, which, consequently, develop an energy deficit, further reducing axonal health. The growth-inhibitory and inflammatory environment of lesions also impairs remyelination, a repair process that might protect axons from degeneration. Moreover, neurodegeneration is accelerated by the altered expression of ion channels on denuded axons. In this Review, we discuss the current understanding of these disease mechanisms and highlight emerging therapeutic strategies based on these insights, including those targeting the neuroinflammatory and degenerative aspects as well as remyelination-promoting approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Demyelinating Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Development*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / drug therapy*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology*