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Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders

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People with multiple sclerosis (PwMS) have reduced bone mineral density (BMD), but the causes are unclear. Some factors that may cause reduced BMD in PwMS have been understudied, including physical activity, inflammation, cortisol, symptomatic fatigue, and depression. The aim of this study was to investigate factors that may uniquely contribute to reduced BMD in PwMS as compared to people without MS. We hypothesized that physical activity would be the primary determinant of low BMD in PwMS, with additional contributions from inflammation and sympathetic nervous system activation.


We tested 23 PwMS (16 women; median EDSS: 2) and 22 control participants (16 women). BMD was measured from the femoral neck and lumbar spine with dual x-ray absorptiometry. Disability was measured with the Expanded Disability Status Scale, and functional capacity was measured with the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite. Questionnaires measured symptomatic fatigue and depression. A blood draw was used to measure calcium, phosphate, vitamin D, N-terminal telopeptide, osteopontin, and cytokine markers of inflammation. Physical activity was measured with accelerometry. Salivary cortisol and cardiac heart rate variability also were obtained. All outcome variables were compared between groups with independent samples t-tests. Variables that were different between groups and significantly correlated (Pearson product-moment) with femoral neck BMD, were included in a theoretical model to explain femoral neck BMD. The expected direction of relations in the theoretical model were developed based upon the results of previous research. A Bayesian path analysis was used to test the relations of predictive variables with femoral neck BMD and interrelations among predictive variables, as detailed in the theoretical model.


PwMS had lower BMD at the femoral neck than controls (p = =0.04; mean difference: -0.09; 95% CI: -0.2, -0.004; Cohen's d = =0.65), and there was a smaller, statistically non-significant difference in BMD at the lumbar spine (p = =0.07; mean difference: -0.08; 95% CI: -0.17, 0.007; Cohen's d = =0.59). PwMS also had lower functional capacity (p ≤ 0.001; Cohen's d = =1.50), greater fatigue (pd = =1.88), greater depression (pd = =1.31), and decreased physical activity (p = =0.03; Cohen's d = =0.62). Using path analysis to test our theoretical model, we found that disability (standardized estimate= -0.17), physical activity (standardized estimate=0.39), symptomatic fatigue (standardized estimate= -0.36), depression (standardized estimate= -0.30), and inflammatory markers (standardized estimate=0.27) explained 51% of the variance in femoral neck BMD. Inflammatory markers were also predictive of disability (standardized estimate=0.44) and physical activity (standardized estimate= -0.40). Symptomatic fatigue and depression were correlated (r = =0.64).


Physical activity, symptomatic fatigue, depression, disability, and inflammation all contributed independently to decreased femoral neck BMD in PWMS. Bone metabolism in PwMS is complex. Efforts to increase physical activity and address symptomatic fatigue and depression may improve bone mineral density in PwMS. Future research should investigate the mechanisms through which symptomatic fatigue and depression contribute to reduced BMD in PwMS.


Accepted version. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, Vol. 38 (February 2020): 101864. DOI. © 2020 Elsevier. Used with permission.

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