Advances in spinal cord imaging in multiple sclerosis

Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2019 Apr 22;12:1756286419840593. doi: 10.1177/1756286419840593. eCollection 2019.

Abstract

The spinal cord is frequently affected in multiple sclerosis (MS), causing motor, sensory and autonomic dysfunction. A number of pathological abnormalities, including demyelination and neuroaxonal loss, occur in the MS spinal cord and are studied in vivo with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The aim of this review is to summarise and discuss recent advances in spinal cord MRI. Advances in conventional spinal cord MRI include improved identification of MS lesions, recommended spinal cord MRI protocols, enhanced recognition of MRI lesion characteristics that allow MS to be distinguished from other myelopathies, evidence for the role of spinal cord lesions in predicting prognosis and monitoring disease course, and novel post-processing methods to obtain lesion probability maps. The rate of spinal cord atrophy is greater than that of brain atrophy (-1.78% versus -0.5% per year), and reflects neuroaxonal loss in an eloquent site of the central nervous system, suggesting that it can become an important outcome measure in clinical trials, especially in progressive MS. Recent developments allow the calculation of spinal cord atrophy from brain volumetric scans and evaluation of its progression over time with registration-based techniques. Fully automated analysis methods, including segmentation of grey matter and intramedullary lesions, will facilitate the use of spinal cord atrophy in trial designs and observational studies. Advances in quantitative imaging techniques to evaluate neuroaxonal integrity, myelin content, metabolic changes, and functional connectivity, have provided new insights into the mechanisms of damage in MS. Future directions of research and the possible impact of 7T scanners on spinal cord imaging will be discussed.

Keywords: MRI; advanced; atrophy; lesions; multiple sclerosis; quantitative; spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Review