Background: Despite agreement about spinal cord atrophy in progressive forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), data on clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) and relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) are conflicting.
Objective: To determine the onset of spinal cord atrophy in the disease course of MS.
Methods: Structural brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was acquired from 267 patients with CIS (85) or RRMS (182) and 64 healthy controls (HCs). The upper cervical cord cross-sectional area (UCCA) was determined at the level of C2/C3 by a segmentation tool and adjusted for focal MS lesions. The coefficient of variation (CV) was calculated from all measurements between C2/C3 and 13 mm above as a measure of structural variability.
Results: Compared to HCs (76.1±6.9 mm(2)), UCCA was significantly reduced in CIS patients (73.5±5.8 mm(2), p=0.018) and RRMS patients (72.4±7.0 mm(2), p<0.001). Structural variability was higher in patients than in HCs, particularly but not exclusively in case of focal lesions (mean CV HCs/patients without/with lesions: 2.13%/2.55%/3.32%, all p-values<0.007). UCCA and CV correlated with Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) scores (r =-0.131/0.192, p=0.044/<0.001) and disease duration (r=-0.134/0.300, p=0.039/< 0.001). CV additionally correlated with hand and arm function (r=0.180, p=0.014).
Conclusion: In MS, cervical cord atrophy already occurs in CIS. In early stages, structural variability may be a more meaningful marker of spinal cord pathology than atrophy.
Keywords: Cervical cord; clinically isolated syndrome; magnetic resonance imaging; relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis.
© The Author(s), 2014.