The relevance of animal models in multiple sclerosis research

Aleksandar Denic, Aaron J. Johnson, Allan J. Bieber, Arthur E. Warrington, Moses Rodriguez, Istvan Pirko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a complex disease with an unknown etiology and no effective cure, despite decades of extensive research that led to the development of several partially effective treatments. Researchers have only limited access to early and immunologically active MS tissue samples, and the modification of experimental circumstances is much more restricted in human studies compared to studies in animal models. For these reasons, animal models are needed to clarify the underlying immune-pathological mechanisms and test novel therapeutic and reparative approaches. It is not possible for a single mouse model to capture and adequately incorporate all clinical, radiological, pathological and genetic features of MS. The three most commonly studied major categories of animal models of MS include: (1) the purely autoimmune experimental autoimmune/allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE); (2) the virally induced chronic demyelinating disease models, with the main model of Theiler's Murine Encephalomyelitis Virus (TMEV) infection and (3) toxin-induced models of demyelination, including the cuprizone model and focal demyelination induced by lyso-phosphatidyl choline (lyso-lecithine). EAE has been enormously helpful over the past several decades in our overall understanding of CNS inflammation, immune surveillance and immune-mediated tissue injury. Furthermore, EAE has directly led to the development of three approved medications for treatment in multiple sclerosis, glatiramer acetate, mitoxantrone and natalizumab. On the other hand, numerous therapeutical approaches that showed promising results in EAE turned out to be either ineffective or in some cases harmful in MS. The TMEV model features a chronic-progressive disease course that lasts for the entire lifespan in susceptible mice. Several features of MS, including the role and significance of axonal injury and repair, the partial independence of disability from demyelination, epitope spread from viral to myelin epitopes, the significance of remyelination has all been demonstrated in this model. TMEV based MS models also feature several MRI findings of the human disease. Toxin-induced demyelination models has been mainly used to study focal demyelination and remyelination. None of the three main animal models described in this review can be considered superior; rather, they are best viewed as complementary to one another. Despite their limitations, the rational utilization and application of these models to address specific research questions will remain one of the most useful tools in studies of human demyelinating diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-29
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Cuprizone
  • Demyelination
  • EAE
  • Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
  • Lyso-phosphatidyl choline
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Remyelination
  • TMEV
  • Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus
  • Toxic demyelination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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