In vivo stiffness of multiple sclerosis lesions is similar to that of normal-appearing white matter

Acta Biomater. 2022 Jan 15:138:410-421. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2021.10.038. Epub 2021 Oct 28.


In 1868, French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot coined the term multiple sclerosis (MS) after his observation that numerous white matter (WM) glial scars felt like sclerotic tissue. Nowadays, magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) can generate images with contrast of stiffness (CS) in soft in vivo tissues and may therefore be sensitive to MS lesions, provided that sclerosis is indeed a mechanical signature of this disease. We analyzed CS in a total of 147 lesions in patients with relapsing-remitting MS, compared with control regions in contralateral brain regions, and phantom data as well as performed numerical simulations to determine the delineation limits of multifrequency MRE (20 - 40 Hz) in MS. MRE analysis of simulated waves revealed a delineation limit of approximately 10% CS for detecting 9-mm lesions (mean size in our patient population). Due to inversion bias, this limit is reached when true CS is -11% for soft and 35% for stiff lesions. In vivo MRE identified 35 stiffer lesions and 17 softer lesions compared with surrounding WM (mean stiffness: 934±82 Pa). However, a similar pattern was found in the contralateral brain, suggesting that the range of stiffness changes in WM lesions due to MS is within the normal range of WM variability and normal heterogeneity-related CS. Consequently, Charcot's original intuition that MS is a focal sclerotic disease can neither be dismissed nor confirmed by in vivo MRE. However, the observation that MS lesions do not markedly differ in stiffness from surrounding brain tissue suggests that marked tissue sclerosis is not a mechanical signature of MS. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Multiple sclerosis (MS) was named by J.M. Charcot after the sclerotic changes in brain tissue he found in post-mortem autopsies. Since then, nothing has been revealed about the actual stiffening of MS lesions in vivo. Studying the viscoelastic properties of plaques in their natural environment is a major challenge that can only be overcome by MR elastography (MRE). Therefore, we used multifrequency MRE to answer the question whether MS lesions in patients with a relapsing-remitting disease course are mechanically different than surrounding tissue. Our findings suggest that the range of stiffness changes in white matter lesions due to MS is within the normal range of white matter variability and in vivo tissue sclerosis might not be a mechanical signature of MS.

Keywords: Brain; Multifrequency MRE; Multiple sclerosis; Viscoelasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / pathology
  • Sclerosis / pathology
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging