Spinal cord MRI in multiple sclerosis--diagnostic, prognostic and clinical value

Nat Rev Neurol. 2015 Jun;11(6):327-38. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2015.80. Epub 2015 May 26.


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disorder of the CNS that affects both the brain and the spinal cord. MRI studies in MS focus more often on the brain than on the spinal cord, owing to the technical challenges in imaging this smaller, mobile structure. However, spinal cord abnormalities at disease onset have important implications for diagnosis and prognosis. Furthermore, later in the disease course, in progressive MS, myelopathy becomes the primary characteristic of the clinical presentation, and extensive spinal cord pathology--including atrophy, diffuse abnormalities and numerous focal lesions--is common. Recent spinal cord imaging studies have employed increasingly sophisticated techniques to improve detection and quantification of spinal cord lesions, and to elucidate their relationship with physical disability. Quantitative MRI measures of cord size and tissue integrity could be more sensitive to the axonal loss and other pathological processes in the spinal cord than is conventional MRI, putting quantitative MRI in a key role to elucidate the association between disability and spinal cord abnormalities seen in people with MS. In this Review, we summarize the most recent MS spinal cord imaging studies and discuss the new insights they have provided into the mechanisms of neurological impairment. Finally, we suggest directions for further and future research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Disease Progression
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / diagnosis
  • Prognosis
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*