Evidence for early, non-lesional cerebellar damage in patients with multiple sclerosis: DTI measures correlate with disability, atrophy, and disease duration

Mult Scler. 2016 Jan;22(1):73-84. doi: 10.1177/1352458515579439. Epub 2015 Apr 28.


Background: Common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) such as gait ataxia, poor coordination of the hands, and intention tremor are usually the result of dysfunctionality in the cerebellum. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has frequently failed to detect cerebellar damage in the form of inflammatory lesions in patients presenting with symptoms of cerebellar dysfunction.

Objective: To detect microstructural cerebellar tissue alterations in early MS patients with a "normal appearing" cerebellum using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

Methods: A total of 68 patients with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and without cerebellar lesions and 26 age-matched healthy controls were admitted to high-resolution MRI and DTI to assess microstructure and volume of the cerebellar white matter (CBWM).

Results: We found cerebellar fractional anisotropy (FA) and CBWM volume reductions in the group of 68 patients. Interestingly, a subgroup of these patients that was derived by including only patients with early and mild MS (N=23, median age 30 years, median Expanded Disability Status Scale =1.5, median duration 28 months) showed already cerebellar FA but no CBWM volume reductions. FA reductions were correlated with disability, atrophy, and disease duration.

Conclusion: "Normal appearing" cerebellar white matter can be damaged in a very early stage of RRMS. DTI seems to be a sensitive tool for detecting this hidden cerebellar damage.

Keywords: Diffusion tensor imaging; atrophy; cerebellum; degeneration; multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Cerebellar Diseases / etiology
  • Cerebellar Diseases / pathology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / complications
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / pathology*
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Time Factors
  • White Matter / pathology*
  • Young Adult