Gray matter damage in multiple sclerosis: Impact on clinical symptoms

Neuroscience. 2015 Sep 10;303:446-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.07.006. Epub 2015 Jul 8.


Traditionally, multiple sclerosis (MS) is considered to be a disease primarily affecting the white matter (WM). However, the development of some clinical symptoms such as cognitive impairment cannot be fully explained by the severity of WM pathology alone. During the past decades it became clear that gray matter (GM) damage of the brain is also of major importance in patients with MS. Thanks to improved magnetic resonance imaging techniques, the in vivo detection of GM pathology became possible, enabling a better understanding of the manifestation of various clinical symptoms, such as cognitive impairment. Using higher field strengths and specific sequences, detection of cortical lesions was increased. However, despite these improvements, visualization of cortical MS lesions remains difficult (only about 30-50% of histopathologically confirmed lesions can be detected at 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)). Furthermore, more research is needed to understand the exact interplay of cortical lesions, GM atrophy and WM pathology in the development of clinical symptoms. In this review, we summarize the historical background that preceded current research and provide an overview of the current knowledge on clinical consequences of GM pathology in MS in terms of disability, cognitive impairment and other clinically important signs such as epileptic seizures.

Keywords: cognitive impairment; cortical lesions; epilepsy; gray matter atrophy; multiple sclerosis; physical disability.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Diseases / complications
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*