Interferon beta treatment is a potent and targeted epigenetic modifier in multiple sclerosis

Front Immunol. 2023 May 30:14:1162796. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2023.1162796. eCollection 2023.


Introduction: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has a complex pathophysiology that involves genetic and environmental factors. DNA methylation (DNAm) is one epigenetic mechanism that can reversibly modulate gene expression. Cell specific DNAm changes have been associated with MS, and some MS therapies such as dimethyl fumarate can influence DNAm. Interferon Beta (IFNβ), was one of the first disease modifying therapies in multiple sclerosis (MS). However, how IFNβ reduces disease burden in MS is not fully understood and little is known about the precise effect of IFNβ treatment on methylation.

Methods: The objective of this study was to determine the changes in DNAm associated with INFβ use, using methylation arrays and statistical deconvolutions on two separate datasets (total ntreated = 64, nuntreated = 285).

Results: We show that IFNβ treatment in people with MS modifies the methylation profile of interferon response genes in a strong, targeted, and reproducible manner. Using these identified methylation differences, we constructed a methylation treatment score (MTS) that is an accurate discriminator between untreated and treated patients (Area under the curve = 0.83). This MTS is time-sensitive and in consistent with previously identified IFNβ treatment therapeutic lag. This suggests that methylation changes are required for treatment efficacy. Overrepresentation analysis found that IFNβ treatment recruits the endogenous anti-viral molecular machinery. Finally, statistical deconvolution revealed that dendritic cells and regulatory CD4+ T cells were most affected by IFNβ induced methylation changes.

Discussion: In conclusion, our study shows that IFNβ treatment is a potent and targeted epigenetic modifier in multiple sclerosis.

Keywords: disease modifying therapy (DMT); epigenetics (DNA methylation); inflammation; interferon beta (IFN beta); methylation; multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interferon-beta* / pharmacology
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / chemically induced
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / drug therapy
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / genetics
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Interferon-beta

Grants and funding

This study was supported by the National MS Society grant (Ausimmune) RG-1803-30499 and MS research Australia (severity study) 18-0424.