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Azathioprine Reduces New Brain Lesions in MS Patients

Immunosuppressive drug may represent an alternative to immunomodulatory drugs

TUESDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- The immunosuppressive drug azathioprine reduces new brain lesions in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), according to a study published in the December issue of the Archives of Neurology.

Luca Massacesi, M.D., of the University of Florence, Italy, and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate the effect of six months of azathioprine therapy in 14 patients with RRMS of short duration.

The researchers found that azathioprine reduced the median number of gadolinium-enhancing lesions to zero, and 12 of 14 patients had a 50% or more reduction in lesions. Although six patients experienced adverse events that were either transient or reversible with a lower dosage, no patients discontinued treatment. Six months after treatment, the patients' neurologic disability was stable and their relapse rate had decreased consistently with the new brain lesion rate.

"This study indicates for the first time that azathioprine, administered at lymphocyte-suppressing doses, is effective in reducing multiple sclerosis new brain inflammatory lesions and is well tolerated," the authors conclude. "If considered in the context of previous clinical trials, the present study indicates that azathioprine may represent an alternative to immunomodulatory medications specifically approved for RRMS."

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