Journal of Neurology

, Volume 251, Issue 11, pp 1297-1303

First online:

Hepatic injury, liver monitoring and the beta-interferons for multiple sclerosis

  • Helen TremlettAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine (Neurology) rm S159, Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre, University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , Joel OgerAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine (Neurology) rm S159, Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre, University of British Columbia

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This review explores the salient issues surrounding liver injury and liver monitoring associated with beta-interferon (IFNB) treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS). Post-marketing studies have found a higher proportion of IFNB-treated MS patients with elevated aminotransferases than reported in the pivotal clinical trials. Although the risk of severe liver injury appears small, the true incidence is unknown. Post-marketing studies have shown that the greatest period of risk for the development of liver test abnormalities appears to be in the first year of IFNB treatment. The risk also increases with the more frequently administered, higher-dosage IFNBs. Males are more likely than females to develop elevated aminotransferases (> upper normal limit), although females appear at a greater risk of severe liver injury. Of the commonly used biochemical liver tests, alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (AP) and bilirubin appear the most useful for routine monitoring of IFNB treatment. Whilst many other factors can affect liver test results, including obesity, alcohol, concomitant medications, co-morbidities and theoretically even MS itself, regular liver testing both prior and during IFNB therapy might help minimise Type A or dose/frequency dependent aminotransferase elevations. However, testing will probably not prevent the Type B idiosyncratic reactions which can result in severe hepatic injury; hence patients need to be aware, and to report hepatic side effects promptly.

Key words

multiple sclerosis beta-interferon hepatic injury aminotransferases adverse drug reactions