Thalamic Nuclei Volumes and Their Relationships to Neuroperformance in Multiple Sclerosis: A Cross-Sectional Structural MRI Study

J Magn Reson Imaging. 2021 Mar;53(3):731-739. doi: 10.1002/jmri.27389. Epub 2020 Oct 12.


Background: Although reduced thalamic volume is associated with multiple sclerosis (MS)-related clinical impairment, the role of individual thalamic nuclei remains poorly understood.

Purpose/hypothesis: To test whether individual thalamic nuclei volumes are more strongly associated with clinical disability than the whole thalamic volume.

Study type: Retrospective analysis of a prospective dataset.

Subjects: A total of 108 MS patients and 48 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (HCs) FIELD STRENGTH: 3T.

Sequences: 3D T1 -weighted inversion recovery spoiled gradient echo; 2D T2 -weighted fluid-attenuated inversion recovery spin echo; 2D dual-echo proton density-weighted/T2 -weighted spin echo.

Assessments: Clinical assessments included the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS), Nine-Hole Peg Test (9HPT), Timed 25-Foot Walk (T25FW), Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), Brief Visuospatial Memory Test-Revised (BVMTR), and the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT2). FreeSurfer provided anterior, intralaminar, lateral, medial, ventral, posterior, and total volumes.

Statistical tests: False discovery rate-corrected partial correlations (controlling for age, sex, and education) to assess the relationships between volumes and neuroperformance.

Results: Compared to HCs, MS patients presented with lower thalamic nuclei volumes (P < 0.05) except for the intralaminar nucleus (P = 0.279) and scored worse on all neuroperformance scales (P ≤ 0.05) except for CVLT2 (P = 0.151). All nuclei except intralaminar were associated with EDSS (correlation coefficient range: -0.233 to -0.395), SDMT (range: 0.247-0.423), and 9HPT (range: -0.232 to -0.303) (all P < 0.05). BVMTR was associated with anterior (r = 0.319), lateral (r = 0.31), and medial (r = 0.304) volumes (all P < 0.05). T25FW correlated with ventral (r = -0.392) and total (r = -0.309) volumes (both P < 0.05), with the latter being significantly greater (P < 0.05).

Data conclusion: Assessing individual nuclei volume can aid in unraveling the relationship between thalamic pathology and disparate aspects of MS-related disability.

Level of evidence: 2 TECHNICAL EFFICACY STAGE: 2.

Keywords: atrophy; cognition; multiple sclerosis; thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thalamic Nuclei