Atrophy and structural variability of the upper cervical cord in early multiple sclerosis

Mult Scler. 2015 Jun;21(7):875-84. doi: 10.1177/1352458514546514. Epub 2014 Aug 19.


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.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Cervical Cord / pathology*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / pathology*
  • Young Adult