Magnetic resonance spectroscopy markers of disease progression in multiple sclerosis

JAMA Neurol. 2014 Jul 1;71(7):840-7. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2014.895.


Importance: Predicting disease evolution is becoming essential for optimizing treatment decision making in multiple sclerosis (MS). Multiple sclerosis pathologic damage typically includes demyelination, neuro-axonal loss, and astrogliosis.

Objective: To evaluate the potential of magnetic resonance markers of central nervous system injury to predict brain-volume loss and clinical disability in multiple sclerosis.

Design, setting, and participants: Participants were selected from the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of California-San Francisco. The preliminary data set included 59 patients with MS and 43 healthy control individuals. The confirmatory data set included 220 patients from an independent, large genotype-phenotype research project.

Main outcomes and measures: Baseline N-acetylaspartate (NAA) level, myo-inositol (mI) in normal-appearing white and gray matter, myelin water fraction in normal-appearing white matter, markers of axonal damage, astrogliosis, and demyelination were evaluated as predictors in a preliminary data set. Potential predictors were subsequently tested for replication in a confirmatory data set. Clinical scores and percentage of brain-volume change were obtained annually over 4 years as outcomes. Predictors of outcomes were assessed using linear models, linear mixed-effects models, and logistic regression.

Results: N-acetylaspartate and mI both had statistically significant effects on brain volume, prompting the use of the mI:NAA ratio in normal-appearing white matter as a predictor. The ratio was a predictor of brain-volume change in both cohorts (annual slope in the percentage of brain-volume change/unit of increase in the ratio: -1.68; 95% CI, -3.05 to -0.30; P = .02 in the preliminary study cohort and -1.08; 95% CI, -1.95 to -0.20; P = .02 in the confirmatory study cohort). Furthermore, the mI:NAA ratio predicted clinical disability (Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite evolution: -0.52 points annually, P < .001; Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite sustained progression: odds ratio, 2.76/SD increase in the ratio; 95% CI, 1.32 to 6.47; P = .01) in the preliminary data set and predicted Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite evolution (-0.23 points annually; P = .01), Expanded Disability Status Scale evolution (0.57 points annually; P = .04), and Expanded Disability Status Scale sustained progression (odds ratio, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.10 to 1.94; P = .009) in the confirmatory data set. Myelin water fraction did not show predictive value.

Conclusions and relevance: The mI:NAA ratio in normal-appearing white matter has consistent predictive power on brain atrophy and neurological disability evolution. The combined presence of astrogliosis and axonal damage in white matter has cardinal importance in disease severity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Aspartic Acid / biosynthesis
  • Atrophy / metabolism
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Inositol / biosynthesis
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / metabolism*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Biomarkers
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Inositol
  • N-acetylaspartate