In multiple sclerosis (MS), diffuse brain parenchymal damage exceeding focal inflammation is increasingly recognized to be present from the very onset of the disease, and, although occult to conventional imaging techniques, may present a major cause of permanent neurological disability. Subtle tissue alterations significantly influence biomechanical properties given by stiffness and internal friction, that--in more accessible organs than the brain--are traditionally assessed by manual palpation during the clinical exam. The brain, however, is protected from our sense of touch, and thus our current knowledge on cerebral viscoelasticity is very limited. We developed a clinically feasible magnetic resonance elastography setup sensitive to subtle alterations of brain parenchymal biomechanical properties. Investigating 45 MS patients revealed a significant decrease (13%, P<0.001) of cerebral viscoelasticity compared to matched healthy volunteers, indicating a widespread tissue integrity degradation, while structure-geometry defining parameters remained unchanged. Cerebral viscoelasticity may represent a novel in vivo marker of neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative pathology.
Copyright (c) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.