Background: Reduced N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA) levels in magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) may visualize axonal damage even in the normal appearing white matter (NAWM). Demyelination and axonal degeneration are a hallmark in multiple sclerosis (MS).
Objective: To define the extent of axonal degeneration in the NAWM in the remote from focal lesions in patients with relapsing-remitting (RRMS) and secondary progressive MS (SPMS).
Material and methods: 37 patients with clinical definite MS (27 with RRMS, 10 with SPMS) and 8 controls were included. We used 2D (1)H-MR-chemical shift imaging (TR = 1500ms, TE = 135ms, nominal resolution 1ccm) operating at 3Tesla to assess the metabolic pattern in the fronto-parietal NAWM. Ratios of NAA to creatine (Cr) and choline (Cho) and absolute concentrations of the metabolites in the NAWM were measured in each voxel matching exclusively white matter on the anatomical T2 weighted MR images.
Results: No significant difference of absolute concentrations for NAA, Cr and Cho or metabolite ratios were found between RRMS and controls. In SPMS, the NAA/Cr ratio and absolute concentrations for NAA and Cr were significantly reduced compared to RRMS and to controls.
Conclusions: In our study SPMS patients, but not RRMS patients were characterized by low NAA levels. Reduced NAA-levels in the NAWM of patients with MS is a feature of progression.