Objectives: To compare clinical and MRI parameters between patients with clinically isolated syndrome and those converting to clinically definite multiple sclerosis within 2 years, to identify volumetric MRI predictors of this conversion and to assess effect of early relapses.
Methods: The SET study comprised 220 patients with clinically isolated syndrome treated with interferon beta (mean age, 29 years; Expanded Disability Status Scale, 1.5). Three patients with missing data were excluded from the analysis. Physical disability, time to clinically definite multiple sclerosis and volumetric MRI data were recorded for 2 years.
Results: Patients reaching clinically definite multiple sclerosis showed impaired recovery of neurological function, faster decrease in corpus callosum cross-sectional area, higher T2 lesion volume and more contrast-enhancing lesions. Six-month decrease in corpus callosum cross-sectional area (≥ 1%) and baseline T2 lesion volume (≥ 5 cm(3)) predicted clinically definite multiple sclerosis within 2 years (hazard ratios 2.5 and 1.8, respectively). Of 22 patients fulfilling both predictive criteria, 83% reached clinically definite multiple sclerosis (hazard ratio 6.5). More relapses were associated with poorer recovery of neurological function and accelerated brain atrophy.
Conclusions: Neurological impairment is more permanent, brain atrophy is accelerated and focal inflammatory activity is greater in patients converting to clinically definite multiple sclerosis. Six-month corpus callosum atrophy and baseline T2 lesion volume jointly help predict individual risk of clinically definite multiple sclerosis. Early relapses contribute to permanent damage of the central nervous system.