The spinal and cerebral profile of adult spinal-muscular atrophy: A multimodal imaging study

Neuroimage Clin. 2019:21:101618. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.101618. Epub 2018 Nov 28.


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type III and IV are autosomal recessive, slowly progressive lower motor neuron syndromes. Nevertheless, wider cerebral involvement has been consistently reported in mouse models. The objective of this study is the characterisation of spinal and cerebral pathology in adult forms of SMA using multimodal quantitative imaging.

Methods: Twenty-five type III and IV adult SMA patients and 25 age-matched healthy controls were enrolled in a spinal cord and brain imaging study. Structural measures of grey and white matter involvement and diffusion parameters of white matter integrity were evaluated at each cervical spinal level. Whole-brain and region-of-interest analyses were also conducted in the brain to explore cortical thickness, grey matter density and tract-based white matter alterations.

Results: In the spinal cord, considerable grey matter atrophy was detected between C2-C6 vertebral levels. In the brain, increased grey matter density was detected in motor and extra-motor regions of SMA patients. No white matter pathology was identified neither at brain and spinal level.

Conclusions: Adult forms of SMA are associated with selective grey matter degeneration in the spinal cord with preserved white matter integrity. The observed increased grey matter density in the motor cortex may represent adaptive reorganisation.

Keywords: Grey matter and white matter degeneration; Multimodal MRI; SMA; Spinal cord MRI; Spinal muscular atrophy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophies of Childhood / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophies of Childhood / pathology*
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / pathology
  • Young Adult

Supplementary concepts

  • Spinal muscular atrophy 4