Objective: To quantitatively investigate water diffusion changes in normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) and gray matter in patients with MS, and to evaluate whether these changes are correlated with clinical disability and disease duration.
Background: Diffusion tensor imaging provides quantitative information about the magnitude and directionality (anisotropy) of water diffusion in vivo and detects pathologic changes in MS brain tissue.
Methods: Diffusion tensor imaging was performed in 39 patients with MS and in 21 age-matched control subjects. Quantitative indices, including fractional anisotropy, volume ratio, and mean diffusivity, were obtained in 30 regions of interest located in normal-appearing basal ganglia, cerebellar gray matter, and supratentorial and infratentorial NAWM.
Results: Patients with MS showed significantly reduced anisotropy and a trend toward increased diffusivity in the infratentorial and supratentorial NAWM, and significantly increased anisotropy in the basal ganglia. In all patients with MS, both fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity in the cerebral peduncles were inversely correlated with the Expanded Disability Status Scale and pyramidal functional scores. In patients with relapsing-remitting MS, there was a strong correlation between Expanded Disability Status Scale score and fractional anisotropy in both supratentorial and infratentorial NAWM. In primary and secondary progressive MS, disease duration correlated strongly with mean diffusivity in infratentorial NAWM and fractional anisotropy in the cerebral peduncles, respectively.
Conclusion: The most striking finding of decreased fractional anisotropy in supratentorial and infratentorial NAWM and increased fractional anisotropy in basal ganglia may result from axonal degeneration due to fiber transection in remote focal lesions. Diffusion tensor imaging indices, in particular fractional anisotropy, appear sensitive to structural damage in NAWM that is associated with disability and progression in MS.