Spinal cord atrophy and disability in MS: a longitudinal study

Neurology. 1998 Jul;51(1):234-8. doi: 10.1212/wnl.51.1.234.


Objective: To assess whether it is possible to measure changes in cord cross-sectional area during a 1-year period in patients with MS reliably.

Background: Involvement of the spinal cord in MS is extremely common and an important element in the development of disability. Although little relation has been shown between the cord lesion load and disability, a strong correlation between spinal cord atrophy and the expanded disability status scale (EDSS) has been demonstrated in cross-sectional studies.

Method: A highly reproducible semiautomated technique that measures the cross-sectional area of the cord at the C2 level was applied to 13 healthy control subjects and 28 patients serially.

Results: This study confirms that patients have significantly smaller cords than control subjects at baseline (control subjects: mean 80.95 mm2, patients: mean 71.25 mm2, p = 0.01) and demonstrates that patients have a significant loss in cord cross-sectional area during 12 months, which was not seen in control subjects (p < 0.001). This reduction in cord size was most marked in the primary progressive patients who had a mean cord cross-sectional area loss of 3.52 mm2 (5.2%) and least in the secondary progressive (-0.26 mm2, 0.7%) and benign patients (-0.41 mm2, 0.8%). The baseline cord cross-sectional area correlated strongly with the EDSS (r = -0.52, p = 0.005) and with disease duration (r = -0.75, p < 0.001); however, there was no significant difference in cord area (p = 0.69) or change in cord area (p = 0.51) between those patients with a definite increase in EDSS and those without.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates, for the first time, that it is possible to measure changes in cord cross-sectional area over time. The serial measurement of spinal cord atrophy may thus make an important contribution to the evaluation of therapeutic efficacy, especially in primary progressive disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Atrophy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / rehabilitation*
  • Observer Variation
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*