• biomarker;
  • cystein protease;
  • glucocorticoids;
  • interferon-β;
  • multiple sclerosis


Cathepsins are involved in a variety of physiological processes including antigen processing and presentation and extracellular matrix degradation. In the present study, we evaluated whether expression levels of cathepsins S and B and their inhibitors cystatins B and C are affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) disease state (relapse and remission) and therapies (interferon-β[IFN-β] and the glucocorticoid [GC] methylprednisolone), and whether they are associated with the IFN-β response phenotype. Real-time PCR was employed to compare RNA expression levels in peripheral blood leucocytes (PBLs) and ELISA to determine serum protein levels of MS patients and matched healthy individuals. Cathepsin S RNA was higher in MS patients in the relapse state compared to controls (by 74%, P= 3 × 10−5, n= 30 versus n= 18) with a similar increase observed in serum (66%, P= 0.002, n= 18 versus n= 20). GC treatment reduced cathepsin S levels in PBL RNA (by 44%, P= 6 × 10−6, n= 27) and serum proteins (by 27%, P= 1 × 10−5, n= 26), reduced the serum protein levels of pro-cathepsin B (by 8%, P= 0.0007, n= 23), and in parallel increased the serum levels of their inhibitor cystatin C (by 82%, P= 8 × 10−6, n= 26). IFN-β therapy significantly elevated the RNA levels (n= 16) of cathepsin B (by 16%, P= 0.03), cystatin B (44%, P= 0.004) and cystatin C (48%, P= 0.011). In the serum, only cathepsin S levels were reduced by IFN-β (16%, P= 0.006, n= 25). Interestingly, pre-treatment serum cathepsin S/cystatin C ratio was higher in ‘good responders’ to IFN-β therapy compared to patients without a good response (by 94%, P= 0.003). These results suggest that cathepsin S and cystatin C may contribute to disease activity in MS, specifically in a subgroup of patients that are responsive to IFN-β therapy, and that these proteins should be further evaluated as biomarkers in MS.