Background: Post-mortem studies demonstrate extensive grey matter demyelination in MS, both in the brain and in the spinal cord. However the clinical significance of these plaques is unclear, largely because they are grossly underestimated by MR imaging at conventional field strengths. Indeed post-mortem MR studies suggest the great majority of lesions in the cerebral cortex go undetected, even when performed at high field. Similar studies have not been performed using post-mortem spinal cord material.
Aim: To assess the sensitivity of high field post-mortem MRI for detecting grey matter lesions in the spinal cord in MS.
Methods: Autopsy material was obtained from 11 MS cases and 2 controls. Proton Density-weighted images of this formalin-fixed material were acquired at 4.7 Tesla before the tissue was sectioned and stained for Myelin Basic Protein. Both the tissue sections and the MR images were scored for grey matter and white matter plaques, with the readers of the MR images being blinded to the histopathology results.
Results: Our results indicate that post-mortem imaging at 4.7 Tesla is highly sensitive for cord lesions, detecting 87% of white matter lesions and 73% of grey matter lesions. The MR changes were highly specific for demyelination, with all lesions scored on MRI corresponding to areas of demyelination.
Conclusion: Our work suggests that spinal cord grey matter lesions may be detected on MRI more readily than GM lesions in the brain, making the cord a promising site to study the functional consequences of grey matter demyelination in MS.