Global brain atrophy and corticospinal tract alterations in ALS, as investigated by voxel-based morphometry of 3-D MRI

Amyotroph Lateral Scler Other Motor Neuron Disord. 2005 Dec;6(4):213-20. doi: 10.1080/14660820510038538.


In ALS, advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques are increasingly used to investigate the underlying pathology. In this study, the technique of voxel-based morphometry (VBM) was applied to 3-D MRI data in ALS patients to localize regional grey and white matter changes. Twenty-two ALS patients (mean age 58+/-9 years) with clinically definite ALS by revised El Escorial criteria were studied. None of the patients had any signs of associated frontotemporal dementia. High-resolution 3-D MRI data sets of the whole brain, collected on a 1.5 T scanner, were analysed by statistical parametric mapping (SPM) and VBM in comparison to an age-matched normal data base consisting of 22 healthy volunteers (mean age 59+/-11 years), for grey matter and white matter segments separately. Global brain atrophy was assessed by calculation of brain parenchymal fractions (BPF). In ALS patients, BPF were significantly reduced compared to controls (p = 0.0003), indicating global brain atrophy. Regional decreases of grey matter density were found in the ALS patients at corrected p<0.01 in the right-hemispheric primary motor cortex (area of the highest Z-score) and in the left medial frontal gyrus. Furthermore, regional white matter alterations were observed along the corticospinal tracts bilaterally and in multiple smaller areas including corpus callosum, cerebellum, frontal and occipital subcortical regions. Besides considerable global atrophy in ALS, the topography of ALS-associated cerebral morphological changes could be mapped using VBM, in particular white matter signal changes along the bilateral corticospinal tracts, but also in extra-motor areas. VBM might be a potential tool to visualize disease progression in future longitudinal studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Atrophy / pathology*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pyramidal Tracts / pathology*