Differentiating neuromyelitis optica from other causes of longitudinally extensive transverse myelitis on spinal magnetic resonance imaging

Mult Scler. 2016 Mar;22(3):302-11. doi: 10.1177/1352458515591069. Epub 2015 Jul 24.


Background: Although spinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings of neuromyelitis optica (NMO) have been described, there is limited data available that help differentiate NMO from other causes of longitudinally extensive transverse myelitis (LETM).

Objective: To investigate the spinal MRI findings of LETM that help differentiate NMO at the acute stage from multiple sclerosis (MS) and other causes of LETM.

Methods: We enrolled 94 patients with LETM into our study. Bright spotty lesions (BSL), the lesion distribution and location were evaluated on axial T2-weighted images. Brainstem extension, cord expansion, T1 darkness and lesion enhancement were noted. We also reviewed the brain MRI of the patients during LETM.

Results: Patients with NMO had a greater amount of BSL and T1 dark lesions (p < 0.001 and 0.003, respectively). The lesions in NMO patients were more likely to involve greater than one-half of the spinal cord's cross-sectional area; to enhance and be centrally-located, or both centrally- and peripherally-located in the cord. Of the 62 available brain MRIs, 14 of the 27 whom were NMO patients had findings that may be specific to NMO.

Conclusions: Certain spinal cord MRI features are more commonly seen in NMO patients and so obtaining brain MRI during LETM may support diagnosis.

Keywords: Brain; diagnostic imaging; lesions; magnetic resonance imaging; neuroimaging; neuromyelitis optica; spinal cord; transverse myelitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / pathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Myelitis, Transverse / etiology*
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / complications*
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Young Adult