Conference Coverage

MS cognitive decline buffered by early high vitamin D levels



Higher vitamin D levels at multiple sclerosis onset were predictive of higher cognitive function 11 years on, and heavy smokers took a “clinically significant” cognitive hit, according to a recent study.

“Higher vitamin D in the first years after [clinically isolated syndrome] was associated with better cognitive function and lower neuronal injury at year 11,” said Marianna Cortese, MD, presenting her findings during a late-breaking abstracts session at the annual congress of the European Society for Education and Treatment in Multiple Sclerosis.

“Vitamin D supplementation during the early years with the disease might be neuroprotective,” she said.

According to Dr. Cortese, 40%-70% of patients with MS will experience cognitive decline across their disease course; there is no currently known specific treatment for cognitive decline.

Smoking, low levels of vitamin D [as 25(OH)D], and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) seropositivity are known risk factors for MS, and have been associated with more active MS and progressive disease, but whether these factors predict cognitive status had not been known, said Dr. Cortese of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Accordingly, she said, investigators in the BENEFIT-11 trial sought to determine whether low vitamin D levels, smoking status, and EBV seropositivity detected early after the first disease manifestation in MS would affect later cognitive function.

The study is an observational study that followed 278 participants with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) in the original BENEFIT trial, which was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of interferon beta-1b for early treatment of clinically isolated syndrome. The primary goal of BENEFIT-11, said Dr. Cortese, was to assess the effects of early treatment on long-term outcomes.

“To minimize reverse causation, we used exposure status in the first 2 years after CIS to predict progression outcomes at year 11,” explained Dr. Cortese. The investigators obtained biomarkers at baseline, and at study months 6, 12, and 24. Cotinine was used as a biomarker for current or recent nicotine exposure. Serum 25(OH)D levels were used to determine vitamin D levels, and immunoglobulin G levels for EBV antigen-1 were used for EBV seropositivity.

In terms of outcome measurements, the cognitive performance measure used in the study was the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test, a validated test of processing speed, attention, and working memory, said Dr. Cortese. This test was performed at enrollment, and at study years 1, 2, 5, and 11. At study year 11, neuroaxonal injury was measured using serum neurofilament light chain levels.

In multivariable analysis, the study design adjusted for baseline age and sex, treatment allocation at baseline, unifocal versus multifocal disease seen on baseline magnetic resonance imaging, body mass index, and whether the patient was treated with steroids during the initial CIS.

“Higher quintiles of mean vitamin D levels during the first 2 years were associated with lower odds of scoring worse on the PASAT at year 11,” said Dr. Cortese (P-trend = .028). The significant trend across the quintiles “suggests a dose-response relationship,” she said.* For vitamin D levels over the first 5 years, the P-trend was .049. Dr. Cortese explained that “scoring worse” meant scoring below the median.

Looking at the effect of early vitamin D levels another way, incremental increases of 50 nmol/L of mean 25(OH)D in study months 6-24 predicted 65% lower odds of having a PASAT score below the median at year 11 (P = .027). “Within-person increases in vitamin D during the study were also significantly associated with a better PASAT score when we used the repeated measurement in a linear mixed model,” said Dr. Cortese.

Turning to the effect of smoking on cognitive function at year 11, Dr. Cortese explained that cotinine levels obtained during the first 2 years were all used to determine smoking status. If all levels were below 10 ng/mL, the participant was designated a nonsmoker (N = 125). If any levels were above 25 ng/mL, that patient was classified as a smoker. The investigators also looked at the small number of patients (N = 9) who were very heavy smokers, with cotinine levels over 191 ng/mL.

“Smokers – compared to nonsmokers – had a significantly lower standardized PASAT score at year 11,” said Dr. Cortese (P trend = .042 in age- and sex-adjusted analysis; P-trend = .056 in full multivariable analysis). “Actually, smokers had an up to 0.6-standard deviation-lower PASAT score at year 11 when we looked at heavy smokers. ...This difference corresponds to about 5 points of the PASAT, so I would say [the score is] clinically meaningful.”

Dr. Cortese pointed out that early smoking, again, showed a dose-response relationship with later cognitive status. “It continues to be important to encourage smoking cessation for patients.”

Epstein-Barr antibodies were not associated with cognitive function at year 11, according to the analysis (P-trend = .93).

“The findings of neuroaxonal injury at year 11 using serum neurofilament light-chain measures corroborated the main findings on cognitive function at year 11,” said Dr. Cortese.

For a 50-nmol higher vitamin D level within the first 5 years, neurofilament light chain levels at year 11 were 20% lower, said Dr. Cortese. Conversely, patients who had cotinine levels higher than 25 ng/mL during the first 5 years had neurofilament light chain levels 20% higher than other participants: “So they did worse. They had more neuroaxonal loss,” said Dr. Cortese. No association was seen between neurofilament light chain levels at year 11 and early EBV status, she said.

Though just cognitive function data from BENEFIT-11 were reported by Dr. Cortese, she said that radiologic and other clinical data are also being studied and will be reported in the future.

Dr. Cortese reported that she had no conflicts of interest. Several coauthors reported financial relationships with multiple pharmaceutical companies. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, with clinical support from Bayer HealthCare.

SOURCE: Cortese M et al. ECTRIMS 2018, Late breaking abstracts session.

*Correction, 10/25/18: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the relationship between vitamin D scores during the first 2 years and PASAT scores at year 11.

Next Article: