Objective: Whole brain and regional volume measurement methods were used to quantify white matter, gray matter, and deep gray matter structure volumes in a population of patients with pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis (MS).
Methods: Subjects included 38 patients (mean age 15.2 ± 2.4 years) and 33 age- and sex-matched healthy control (HC) participants. MRI measures included intracranial volume, normalized brain volume, normalized white and gray matter volume, and volumes of the thalamus, globus pallidus, putamen, and caudate. Because these volumes vary across age and sex in children, we normalized the volume measurements for MS and control groups by computing z scores using normative values obtained from healthy children enrolled in the MRI Study of Normal Brain Development.
Results: The intracranial volume z score was significantly lower in the patients with MS (-0.45 ± 1.16; mean ± SD) compared with the HC participants (+0.25 ± 0.98; p = 0.01). Patients with MS also demonstrated significant decreases in normalized brain volume z scores (-1.09 ± 1.49 vs -0.05 ± 1.22; p = 0.002). After correction for global brain volume, thalamic volumes in the MS population remained lower than those of HCs (-0.68 ± 1.72 vs 0.15 ± 1.35; p = 0.02), indicating an even greater loss of thalamic tissue relative to more global brain measures. Moderate correlations were found between T2-weighted lesion load and normalized thalamic volumes (r = -0.44, p < 0.01) and normalized brain volume (r = -0.47, p < 0.01) and between disease duration and normalized thalamic volume (r = -0.58, p < 0.001) and normalized brain volume (r = -0.46, p < 0.01).
Conclusions: When compared with age- and sex-matched control subjects, the onset of MS during childhood is associated with a smaller overall head size, brain volume, and an even smaller thalamic volume.