Published: 11 May 2020

Neuroprotective effects of exercise in people with progressive multiple sclerosis (Exercise PRO-MS): study protocol of a phase II trial

A. S. Gravesteijn, H. Beckerman, B. A. de Jong, H. E. Hulst & V. de Groot
BMC Neurology volume 20, Article number: 177 (2020)


Neurodegeneration, rather than inflammation, plays a key role in the progressive phase of multiple sclerosis (MS). Current disease modifying treatment options for people with progressive MS (PMS) do not specifically target neurodegeneration. Preliminary evidence suggests that exercise therapy might have neuroprotective effects. However, neuroprotective effect studies of exercise interventions in PMS are scarce and the possible mode of action underlying neuroprotective effects of exercise are unknown and need to be elucidated. The main aim of this phase II trial is to assess whether progressive resistance training (PRT) and high intensity interval training (HIIT), can slow down neurodegeneration in people with PMS.

In a single-blinded phase II clinical trial with an extended baseline period, 60 people with PMS will be randomly assigned to PRT or HIIT. The participants should have had a relapse onset of MS with confirmed disease progression, however still ambulatory. The duration of the study is 48 weeks, consisting of 16 weeks baseline period (no intervention), 16 weeks intervention and 16 weeks follow-up. Patient-tailored training will be performed 3 times per week for one hour in groups, led by an experienced physiotherapist. The primary outcome measure is neurodegeneration, measured as whole brain atrophy on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Secondary outcome parameters will include other biomarkers associated with neurodegeneration (i.e. regional brain atrophy, lesion load, white matter integrity, resting state functional connectivity, blood biomarkers (brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and serum neurofilament light (sNFL)), patient functioning (physical and cognitive) and cardiovascular risk factors.

Besides the primary outcome measures, this study will examine a large variety of biomarkers associated with neurodegeneration after an exercise intervention. Combining outcome parameters may help to elucidate the mode of action underlying neuroprotective effects of exercise.

Trial registration
This trial is prospectively registered at the Dutch Trial Registry (number NL8265, date 06-01-2020).