Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been widely used to diagnose and monitor multiple sclerosis (MS). Although MRI-visible lesions are a key feature of MS, they are thought to correlate poorly with clinical progression. Neurodegeneration is increasingly being recognized as an important factor in the pathogenesis of MS, and MRI measures of brain atrophy have been suggested as surrogate markers of neuroaxonal loss and disease progression. This pathology may be more relevant to the progression of disability than focal inflammation. A number of MRI-based methods have been developed for the measurement of global and regional brain atrophy. Natural-history studies of MS and clinically isolated syndromes suggestive of MS have observed atrophy in these subjects above that seen in controls, over periods ranging from three months to years. Brain atrophy has also been incorporated as an outcome measure in therapeutic trials of disease-modifying treatments. This paper considers neuroaxonal loss and the pathological basis of brain atrophy, methods developed to quantify brain atrophy, the findings of natural-history and therapeutic studies, the relationship of brain atrophy to disability and cognition, and the future research directions and clinical applications of brain atrophy measurements.
Copyright 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.