Background: Neuroaxonal loss is a pathological substrate of disability in progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) and can be estimated in vivo by measuring tissue atrophy on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). While there is some evidence that brain atrophy correlates better with disability than T2 lesion load in secondary progressive MS, the clinical relevance of atrophy within specific regions of the central nervous system requires further evaluation.
Methods: Clinical and MRI examinations were performed in 117 subjects with secondary progressive MS. MRI analysis included measures of normalized brain volume (NBV), normalized grey matter (NGMV) and white matter volume (NWMV), central cerebral volume (CCV), spinal cord cross-sectional area (SCCA), and brain T2 and T1 lesion volume. Clinical assessments included the expanded disability status scale (EDSS) and MS functional composite (MSFC).
Results: All MRI measures correlated significantly with the MSFC score, with the strongest correlation being for the NBV (r = 0.47; P < 0.001). NBV and SCCA were the only significant independent predictors of the MSFC score in a stepwise regression model containing all the MRI measures, and SCCA was the only MRI measure to show a significant association with the EDSS. While NGMV had stronger correlations with the clinical variables than NWMV, NBV was more correlated with clinical impairment than either measure.
Conclusions: This data suggests that measures of atrophy, particularly of the whole brain and spinal cord, are relevant and useful disease markers in secondary progressive MS.