Differential patterns of spinal cord and brain atrophy in NMO and MS

Neurology. 2015 Apr 7;84(14):1465-72. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001441. Epub 2015 Mar 11.


Objective: To investigate spinal cord and brain atrophy in neuromyelitis optica (NMO), and its relationship with other MRI measurements and clinical disability, compared with patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and healthy controls (HC).

Methods: We recruited 35 patients with NMO, 35 patients with MS, and 35 HC, who underwent both spinal cord and brain MRI. Mean upper cervical cord area (MUCCA), brain parenchymal fraction (BPF), gray matter fraction (GMF), white matter fraction (WMF), and spinal cord and brain lesion loads were measured and compared among groups. Multivariate associations between MUCCA and brain volume measurement and clinical variables were assessed by partial correlations and multiple linear regression.

Results: Patients with NMO showed smaller MUCCA than HC (p = 0.004), and patients with MS had a trend of smaller MUCCA compared to HC (p = 0.07), with no significant difference between the patient groups. Patients with NMO showed lower BPF than HC, and patients with MS had lower BPF and GMF than patients with NMO. In NMO, MUCCA was correlated with Expanded Disability Status Scale score (EDSS), number of relapses, and total spinal cord lesion length, while in MS, MUCCA was correlated with WMF and EDSS. MUCCA was the only independent variable for predicting clinical disability measured by EDSS in NMO (R(2) = 0.55, p < 0.001) and MS (R(2) = 0.17, p = 0.013).

Conclusion: NMO showed predominately spinal cord atrophy with mild brain atrophy, while MS demonstrated more brain atrophy, especially in the gray matter. MUCCA is the main MRI-derived parameter for explaining clinical disability in NMO and MS, and may serve as a potential biomarker for further clinical trials, especially in NMO.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / pathology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / physiopathology
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / pathology*
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*
  • Young Adult