Background: Differentiating multiple sclerosis (MS) from vascular risk factor (VRF)-small vessel disease (SVD) can be challenging.
Objective and methods: In order to determine whether or not pontine lesion location is a useful discriminator of MS and VRF-SVD, we classified pontine lesions on brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as central or peripheral in 93 MS cases without VRF, 108 MS patients with VRF and 43 non-MS cases with VRF.
Results: MS without VRF were more likely to have peripheral pons lesions (31.2%, 29/93) than non-MS with VRF (0%, 0/43) (Exp(B) = 29.8; 95% confidence interval (CI) = (1.98, 448.3); p = 0.014) but there were no significant differences regarding central pons lesions between MS without VRF (5.4%, 5/93) and non-MS with VRF patients (16.3%, 7/43) (Exp(B) = 0.89; 95% CI = (0.2, 3.94); p = 0.87). The presence of peripheral pons lesions discriminated between MS and VRF-SVD with 100% (95% CI = (91.8, 100)) specificity. The proportion of peripheral pons lesions in MS with VRF (30.5%, 33/108) was similar to that seen in MS without VRF (31.2%, 29/93, p = 0.99). Central lesions occurred in similar frequency in MS with VRF (8.3%, 9/108) and non-MS with VRF (16.3%, 7/43, p = 0.15).
Conclusion: Peripheral pons lesion location is a good discriminator of MS from vascular lesions.
Keywords: Multiple sclerosis; cerebral small vessel disease; differential diagnosis; imaging.