Unraveling a new player in multiple sclerosis pathogenesis: The RNA-binding protein HuR

Cristiana Pistono, Maria Cristina Monti, Nicoletta Marchesi, Chiara Boiocchi, Lucrezia Irene Maria Campagnoli, Danila Morlotti, Mariaclara Cuccia, Stefano Govoni, Cristina Montomoli, Giulia Mallucci, Roberto Bergamaschi, Alessia Pascale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: ELAV-like proteins are a small family of RNA-binding proteins that are fundamental players in post-transcriptional mechanisms and are involved in the pathogenesis of neurologic and psychiatric disorders. HuR, the ubiquitously expressed member of the family, is also implicated in sustaining inflammation and inflammatory diseases, supporting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Inflammation plays a central role in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which represents the most common cause of permanent physical disability in young adults. MS is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting the Central Nervous System, with a complex aetiology involving genetic, environmental and epigenetic factors. No data are available on the potential entanglement of HuR in MS pathogenesis in patients. In the present work, we aimed at exploring HuR protein levels in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from MS patients, compared to healthy controls. To further elucidate the possible involvement of HuR in MS, we also investigated the relationship between this specific RNA-binding protein and HSP70-2 protein, also considering the HSP70-2 rs1061581 polymorphism, given that HSP70-2 mRNA has been reported as a HuR target and this specific polymorphism to be associated with MS risk. Methods: Alleles and genotypes for HSP70-2 rs1061581 polymorphism were assessed, by using a Polymerase Chain Reaction-Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism, followed by digestion with restriction enzyme, in MS patients and healthy controls. PBMCs from a subgroup of patients and controls were used to evaluate HuR and HSP70-2 protein content by Western blot. Results: PBMCs from 52 MS patients had a lower HuR and higher HSP70-2 protein content compared to 43 healthy controls. An increase of 100 units of HuR significantly decreased the risk of developing MS by 9.8% (OR: 0.902, 95% CI: 0.83–0.98), controlling for HSP70-2 protein expression, HSP70-2 rs1061581 genotype, age and sex. Moreover, holding HuR levels, an increase of 100 units of HSP70-2 protein significantly increased the MS risk by 18.1% (OR: 1.181, 95% CI: 1.03–1.36) and the genetic susceptibility of developing MS for HSP70-2 rs1061581 GG carriers is confirmed. Of interest, MS patients with a moderate to severe form of MS (MSSS ≥ 3) showed a trend towards a reduction of HuR protein levels compared to patients with mild disease severity (MSSS < 3). Conclusions: HuR protein levels are reduced in MS patients compared to healthy subjects, and the protein amount may continue to decline with disease progression, suggesting a putative role of this RNA-binding protein. Moreover, our results suggest that MS pathology may have disrupted the link between HuR and its target transcript HSP70-2. It will be important to further explore the exact role of HuR in MS, considering the complex interplay with other RNA-binding factors and target mRNAs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102048
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • ELAV-like protein
  • HSP70-2
  • HuR
  • Multiple sclerosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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