Asymptomatic spinal cord lesions in clinically isolated optic nerve, brain stem, and spinal cord syndromes suggestive of demyelination

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1998 Mar;64(3):353-7. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.64.3.353.


Objectives: Conventional T2 weighted MRI studies have highlighted the fact that the presence of clinically silent brain lesions increases the risk of developing clinically definite multiple sclerosis after an isolated syndrome of the optic nerve, brain stem, or spinal cord. The objectives of the present study are: (1) to show whether or not these patients also have asymptomatic abnormalities of the spinal cord, and (2) to recruit a new cohort of such patients using high resolution MRI of both brain and spinal cord.

Methods: The brain was imaged in the axial plane with 3 mm thick contiguous slices using a proton density and T2 weighted fast spin echo (FSE) sequence; a T1 weighted sequence after the injection of gadolinium-DTPA; and a fast fluid attenuated inversion recovery (fFLAIR) sequence. The spinal cord was imaged in the sagittal plane with 3 mm thick slices using a T2 weighted FSE and a T1 weighted gadolinium enhanced sequence.

Results: Thirty three patients, mean age 31 (16-46) were recruited. There were 14 men and 19 women. Brain MRI was abnormal in 22 (67%); no patient was seen with abnormalities on only one or other sequence. Six patients (18%) displayed one or more gadolinium enhancing lesions on brain MRI. In the spinal cord, nine (27%) patients displayed one or more clinically silent lesions on FSE. Two patients showed one and two gadolinium enhancing lesions in the spinal cord respectively.

Conclusion: This high incidence of spinal cord lesions emphasises that asymptomatic demyelinating lesions may also involve clinically eloquent pathways. Follow up studies are required to determine their prognostic importance.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Stem / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gadolinium DTPA*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Optic Nerve / pathology*
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*


  • Gadolinium DTPA