Disease Reactivation After Cessation of Disease-Modifying Therapy in Patients With Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis

on behalf of MSBase and OFSEP

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the rate of return of disease activity after cessation of multiple sclerosis (MS) disease-modifying therapy.

METHODS: This was a retrospective cohort study from 2 large observational MS registries: MSBase and OFSEP. Patients with relapsing-remitting MS who had ceased a disease-modifying therapy and were followed up for the subsequent 12 months were included in the analysis. The primary study outcome was annualized relapse rate in the 12 months after disease-modifying therapy discontinuation stratified by patients who did, and did not, commence a subsequent therapy. The secondary endpoint was the predictors of first relapse and disability accumulation after treatment discontinuation.

RESULTS: A total of 14,213 patients, with 18,029 eligible treatment discontinuation epochs, were identified for 7 therapies. Annualized rates of relapse (ARRs) started to increase 2 months after natalizumab cessation (month 2-4 ARR 0.47, 95% CI 0.43-0.51). Commencement of a subsequent therapy within 2-4 months reduced the magnitude of disease reactivation (mean ARR difference: 0.15, 0.08-0.22). After discontinuation of fingolimod, rates of relapse increased overall (month 1-2 ARR: 0.80, 0.70-0.89) and stabilized faster in patients who started a new therapy within 1-2 months (mean ARR difference: 0.14, -0.01 to 0.29). The magnitude of disease reactivation for other therapies was low but reduced further by commencement of another treatment 1-10 months after treatment discontinuation. Predictors of relapse were a higher relapse rate in the year before cessation, female sex, younger age, and higher EDSS score. Commencement of a subsequent therapy reduced both the risk of relapse (HR 0.76, 95% CI 0.72-0.81) and disability accumulation (0.73, 0.65-0.80).

DISCUSSION: The rate of disease reactivation after treatment cessation differs among MS treatments, with the peaks of relapse activity ranging from 1 to 10 months in untreated cohorts that discontinued different therapies. These results suggest that untreated intervals should be minimized after stopping antitrafficking therapies (natalizumab and fingolimod).

CLASSIFICATION OF EVIDENCE: This study provides Class III that disease reactivation occurs within months of discontinuation of MS disease-modifying therapies. The risk of disease activity is reduced by commencement of a subsequent therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E1926-E1944
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Oct 25 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Humans
  • Female
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting/drug therapy
  • Natalizumab/therapeutic use
  • Fingolimod Hydrochloride/therapeutic use
  • Multiple Sclerosis/chemically induced
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Recurrence
  • Immunosuppressive Agents/adverse effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology

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