Background: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by increased activation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), linked to perturbations in the phosphorylation of signaling proteins. Methods: We developed a phosphoflow cytometry protocol to assess the levels of 11 phosphorylated nuclear proteins at baseline conditions and after cell activation in distinct PBMC populations from 41 treatment-naïve relapsing-remitting (RR) MS subjects and 37 healthy controls, and in a second cohort of 9 untreated RRMS patients and 10 secondary progressive (SP) MS patients. Levels of HLA-ABC, HLA-E, and HLA-DR were also assessed. Phosphorylation levels of selected proteins were also assessed in mouse splenocytes isolated from myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG)35-55-induced experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Results: Modest differences were observed at baseline between patients and controls, with general lower phosphorylation levels in cells from affected individuals. Conversely, a dramatic increase in phosphorylated p38MAPK and STAT proteins was observed across all cell types in MS patients compared to controls after in vitro activation. A similar phosphorylation profile was observed in mouse lymphocytes primed in vivo with MOG. Furthermore, levels of all p-STAT proteins were found directly correlated with HLA expression in monocytes. Levels of phosphorylated proteins did not differ between relapsing-remitting and secondary progressive MS patients either in baseline conditions or after stimulation. Lastly, phosphorylation levels appear to be independent of the genotype. Conclusion: The response to IFN-α through STAT proteins signaling is strongly dysregulated in MS patients irrespective of disease stage. These findings suggest that the aberrant activation of this pathway could lead to changes in the expression of HLA molecules in antigen presenting cells, which are known to play important roles in the regulation of the immune response in health and disease.
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