This article summarizes recent advances in the identification of genetic and environmental factors that affect the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) and the pathogenic processes involved in acute relapses and relapse-independent disability progression.
The number of single-nucleotide polymorphisms associated with increased risk of MS has increased to more than 200 variants. The evidence for the association of Epstein-Barr virus infection, vitamin D deficiency, obesity, and smoking with increased risk of MS has further accumulated, and, in cases of obesity and vitamin D deficiency, the evidence for causal association has strengthened. Interactions between genetic and environmental factors have been studied more extensively. Dietary factors and changes in the gut microbiota are emerging as possible modulators of the disease risk. Several processes important to MS pathogenesis have been newly investigated or investigated more comprehensively, including the role of B cells, innate immune cells, meningeal inflammation, cortical and gray matter demyelination, and early axonal and neuronal loss.
MS is a complex disease in which the interaction between genetic and environmental factors causes a cascade of events, including activation of the adaptive and innate immune system, blood-brain barrier breakdown, central nervous system demyelination, and axonal and neuronal damage with variable degrees of repair. These events manifest as potentially reversible focal neurologic symptoms or progressive nonremitting physical and cognitive disability, or both. Advances in the understanding of the risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms of MS have resulted in improved therapeutic strategies. The results of ongoing or future studies are needed to successfully and fully translate these advances into clinical practice.