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Original research
Risk of secondary progressive multiple sclerosis after early worsening of disability


Background Whether progression independent of relapse activity (PIRA) heralds earlier onset of secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) and more rapid accumulation of disability during SPMS remains to be determined. We investigated the association between early PIRA, relapse-associated worsening (RAW) of disability and time to SPMS, subsequent disability progression and their response to therapy.

Methods This observational cohort study included patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) from the MSBase international registry across 146 centres and 39 countries. Associations between the number of PIRA and RAW during early multiple sclerosis (MS) (the initial 5 years of MS onset) were analysed with respect to: time to SPMS using Cox proportional hazards models adjusted for disease characteristics; and disability progression during SPMS, calculated as the change of Multiple Sclerosis Severity Scores over time, using multivariable linear regression.

Results 10 692 patients met the inclusion criteria: 3125 (29%) were men and the mean MS onset age was 32.2 years. A higher number of early PIRA (HR=1.50, 95% CI 1.28 to 1.76, p<0.001) and RAW (HR=2.53, 95% CI 2.25 to 2.85, p<0.001) signalled a higher risk of SPMS. A higher proportion of early disease-modifying therapy exposure (per 10%) reduced the effect of early RAW (HR=0.94, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.00, p=0.041) but not PIRA (HR=0.97, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.05, p=0.49) on SPMS risk. No association between early PIRA/RAW and disability progression during SPMS was found.

Conclusions Early disability increase during RRMS is associated with a greater risk of SPMS but not the rate of disability progression during SPMS. The deterioration associated with early relapses represents a potentially treatable risk factor of SPMS.

Trial registration number Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12605000455662).


Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. MSBase is a data processor, and warehouses data from individual principal investigators who agree to share their datasets on a project-by-project basis. Data access to external parties can be granted at the sole discretion of each MSBase Principal Investigator (the data controllers), who will need to be approached individually for permission.

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