Spinal cord lesions in patients with clinically isolated syndrome: a powerful tool in diagnosis and prognosis

Neurology. 2013 Jan 1;80(1):69-75. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31827b1a67. Epub 2012 Dec 12.


Objective: Spinal cord (SC) lesions are frequently found in multiple sclerosis (MS), but are rare in healthy aging and cerebrovascular patients. Our aim was to analyze the contribution of SC involvement in clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) in diagnosing MS according the McDonald 2010 criteria and in predicting conversion to clinically definite MS (CDMS).

Methods: We prospectively followed monofocal, relapsing onset CIS patients with either SC or brain symptom onset (including optic neuritis). MRI of the brain and SC were performed shortly after onset and patients were followed for 24 to 119 months (median 64 months). SC MRI findings were assessed for their contribution to the McDonald 2010 diagnostic criteria and their effect on conversion to CDMS.

Results: One hundred twenty-one patients were included (63 spinal CIS). Based on the brain scan only, 36 patients fulfilled the McDonald criteria; by including SC findings, 6 additional patients fulfilled these criteria. To diagnose 1 additional nonspinal CIS patient, the number needed to scan is 7. In nonspinal CIS patients that did not fulfill McDonald brain MRI criteria (n = 42), presence of an SC lesion was associated with a higher risk of conversion to CDMS (odds ratio: 14.4; 95% confidence interval: 2.6-80.0) and shorter time to conversion to CDMS (hazard ratio: 51.4; 95% confidence interval: 5.5-476.3).

Conclusions: Presence of SC lesions facilitates diagnosing MS and is predictive for conversion to CDMS, especially in patients with nonspinal CIS who do not fulfill brain MRI criteria. We therefore recommend performing an SC scan in patients with nonspinal CIS who do not fulfill McDonald brain MRI criteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / complications
  • Demyelinating Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neuroimaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*