MS-SMART is a recently reported phase 2b randomised placebo controlled multi-arm study of the neuroprotective potential of amiloride, fluoxetine and riluzole in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis [NCT01910259]. No change in atrophy rate was observed in any arm compared to placebo. We obtained brain metabolic data using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) at baseline and 96 weeks to explore postulated candidate drug mechanisms of action for the three interventions. Fluoxetine has previously shown an increase in total N-acetyl aspartate plus N-acetyl aspartyl glutamate [tNAA]; myoinositol was also examined as a marker of astrogliosis. Amiloride blocks the acid sensing ion channel-1 receptor that mediates sodium and calcium and therefore could increase neuroaxonal integrity (tNAA). It is known that riluzole decreases glutaminergic transmission.
MRSI data at baseline and then 96 weeks was used to interrogate drug specific effects of fluoxetine on tNAA and myoinositol (mIns); riluzole on Glx (glutamate + glutamine); and amiloride on tNAA levels, all compared to placebo.
108 participants from the MS-SMART trial were included and had chemical shift imaging in a single slice in the brain (2D-PRESS, TE/TR =35/2000ms) at 3T. Metabolite levels and ratios to creatine (tCr) were determined for normal appearing white matter (NAWM) and grey matter (GM) with LCModel using an unsuppressed water scan as the internal reference. Multiple regression models adjusting for age, sex and baseline Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) were used.
Mean age of the entire cohort was 55 (sd 7.1) years, 67% female, mean disease duration was 22 years (sd 9.6), median EDSS 6.0 (range 4.0-6.5) and median T2 lesion volume 9.0mL (IQR 6.0).
In the fluoxetine arm, there was no significant change in tNAA (or tNAA/Cr) in NAWM or GM; mIns/tCr (but not mIns) was lower at 96 weeks (β = -0.21, 95% CI [-0.40 to -0.02], p = 0.03) in NAWM (but not GM).
In the riluzole arm, there was a reduction in GM Glx (β = -0.25, 95% CI [-0.47 to -0.04], p = 0.02) and Glx/tCr (β = -0.29, 95% CI [-0.50 to -0.08], p = 0.007), but no change was seen in NAWM.
In the amiloride arm, there was no change in tNAA (or tNAA/tCr) in NAWM or GM.
Neither fluoxetine nor amiloride had any effect on proposed measures of neuroaxonal integrity in NAWM or GM as reflected in tNAA levels. There was a fluoxetine reduction in NAWM mIns/tCr perhaps reflecting some decrease in astrogliosis. Riluzole decreased GM Glx levels as anticipated. However, despite these target effects for these drugs, ultimately they did not translate into a reduction in atrophy rate in the trial.