MR Imaging-based Estimation of Upper Motor Neuron Density in Patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Feasibility Study

Radiology. 2018 Jun;287(3):955-964. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2018162967. Epub 2018 Jan 23.


Purpose To determine if magnetic resonance (MR) imaging metrics can estimate primary motor cortex (PMC) motor neuron (MN) density in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Materials and Methods Between 2012 and 2014, in situ brain MR imaging was performed in 11 patients with ALS (age range, 35-81 years; seven women and four men) soon after death (mean, 5.5 hours after death; range, 3.2-9.6 hours). The brain was removed, right PMC (RPMC) was excised, and MN density was quantified. RPMC metrics (thickness, volume, and magnetization transfer ratio) were calculated from MR images. Regression modeling was used to estimate MN density by using RPMC and global MR imaging metrics (brain and tissue volumes); clinical variables were subsequently evaluated as additional estimators. Models were tested at in vivo MR imaging by using the same imaging protocol (six patients with ALS; age range, 54-66 years; three women and three men). Results RPMC mean MN density varied over a greater than threefold range across patients and was estimated by a linear function of normalized gray matter volume (adjusted R2 = 0.51; P = .008; <10% error in most patients). When considering only sporadic ALS, a linear function of normalized RPMC and white matter volumes estimated MN density (adjusted R2 = 0.98; P = .01; <10% error in all patients). In vivo data analyses detected decreases in MN density over time. Conclusion PMC mean MN density varies widely in end-stage ALS possibly because of disease heterogeneity. MN density can potentially be estimated by MR imaging metrics. © RSNA, 2018 Online supplemental material is available for this article.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Motor Cortex / pathology*
  • Motor Neurons / pathology*
  • Prospective Studies