Spinal Cord Gray Matter Atrophy in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2018 Jan;39(1):184-192. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A5427. Epub 2017 Nov 9.


Background and purpose: There is an emerging need for biomarkers to better categorize clinical phenotypes and predict progression in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This study aimed to quantify cervical spinal gray matter atrophy in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and investigate its association with clinical disability at baseline and after 1 year.

Materials and methods: Twenty-nine patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and 22 healthy controls were scanned with 3T MR imaging. Standard functional scale was recorded at the time of MR imaging and after 1 year. MR imaging data were processed automatically to measure the spinal cord, gray matter, and white matter cross-sectional areas. A statistical analysis assessed the difference in cross-sectional areas between patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and controls, correlations between spinal cord and gray matter atrophy to clinical disability at baseline and at 1 year, and prediction of clinical disability at 1 year.

Results: Gray matter atrophy was more sensitive to discriminate patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis from controls (P = .004) compared with spinal cord atrophy (P = .02). Gray matter and spinal cord cross-sectional areas showed good correlations with clinical scores at baseline (R = 0.56 for gray matter and R = 0.55 for spinal cord; P < .01). Prediction at 1 year with clinical scores (R2 = 0.54) was improved when including a combination of gray matter and white matter cross-sectional areas (R2 = 0.74).

Conclusions: Although improvements over spinal cord cross-sectional areas were modest, this study suggests the potential use of gray matter cross-sectional areas as an MR imaging structural biomarker to monitor the evolution of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Atrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*