Length of Telomeres Predictive of Disability Progression in MS

March 1, 2019 (Multiple Sclerosis News Today)

According to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), as the length of telomeres decrease in certain immune cells, regardless of age, the observed magnitude of multiple sclerosis (MS) disability progression increases.

In a presentation titled, “Leukocyte Telomere Length Is Associated with Disability Progression in Multiple Sclerosis Independent of Chronological Age,” one of the researchers from UCSF, Kristen Krysko, MD, said a new study suggests a new therapeutic or preventative strategy may become available by preserving telomere length.

Knowing that aging may be a contributing factor to MS progression, a process associated with aging is the shortening of the telomeres, which protect the tips of chromosomes. It is worth noting that the length of telomeres in leukocytes have been linked with MS disease progression before.

To test possible links between these variables, researchers utilized UCSF’s cohort study, “an intensive observational study consisting of more than 500 patients with MS.” These patients have been followed for close to 15 years with the goal of gaining a better understanding of MS in terms of susceptibility and progression over the long-term.

Study details:

  • Data collected from 356 women and 160 men
  • Average age at start of the study was 43 years old
  • Median disease duration was 6 years
  • Median Expanded Disability Statues Scale (EDSS) of 1.5
  • DNA samples were analyzed from the patients to determine lengths of telomeres.


Shortening of telomere lengths was associated with greater chronological age, longer disease duration, and decreased brain volume, regardless of age. Accelerated disease progression was indicated by increased EDSS scores and lower brain volumes in patients with shortening telomeres over time.

From this study, researchers gathered “targeting aging-related processes may be a potential therapeutic strategy.”

Read more about the associated between shortening telomeres and MS disease progression here.