Putamen atrophy and its long-term progress during disease course were recently shown in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). Here we investigated retrospectively the time point of atrophy onset in patients with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). 68 patients with RRMS and 26 healthy controls (HC) were admitted to 3T MRI in a cross-sectional study. We quantitatively analyzed the putamen volume of individual patients in relation to disease duration by correcting for age and intracranial volume (ICV). Patient's relative putamen volume (RPV), expressed in percent of ICV, was significantly reduced compared to HC. Based on the correlation between RPV and age, we computed the age-corrected RPV deviation (ΔRPV) from HC. Patients showed significantly negative ΔRPV. Interestingly, the age-corrected ΔRPV depended logarithmically on disease duration: Directly after first symptom manifestation, patients already showed a reduced RPV followed by a further degressive volumetric decline. This means that atrophy progression was stronger in the first than in later years of disease. Putamen atrophy starts directly after initial symptom manifestation or even years before, and progresses in a degressive manner. Due to its important role in neurological functions, early detection of putamen atrophy seems necessary. High-resolution structural MRI allows monitoring of disease course.
Keywords: FreeSurfer; disease duration; early putamen atrophy; high-resolution structural MRI; multiple sclerosis; volumetry.