Brain MRI atrophy quantification in MS: From methods to clinical application

Neurology. 2017 Jan 24;88(4):403-413. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003542. Epub 2016 Dec 16.


Patients with the main clinical phenotypes of multiple sclerosis (MS) manifest varying degrees of brain atrophy beyond that of normal aging. Assessment of atrophy helps to distinguish clinically and cognitively deteriorating patients and predicts those who will have a less-favorable clinical outcome over the long term. Atrophy can be measured from brain MRI scans, and many technological improvements have been made over the last few years. Several software tools, with differing requirements on technical ability and levels of operator intervention, are currently available and have already been applied in research or clinical trial settings. Despite this, the measurement of atrophy in routine clinical practice remains an unmet need. After a short summary of the pathologic substrates of brain atrophy in MS, this review attempts to guide the clinician towards a better understanding of the methods currently used for quantifying brain atrophy in this condition. Important physiologic factors that affect brain volume measures are also considered. Finally, the most recent research on brain atrophy in MS is summarized, including whole brain and various compartments thereof (i.e., white matter, gray matter, selected CNS structures). Current methods provide sufficient precision for cohort studies, but are not adequate for confidently assessing changes in individual patients over the scale of months or a few years.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Atrophy
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology