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Atrophy and structural variability of the upper cervical cord in early multiple sclerosis

Mult Scler. 2014 Aug 19. pii: 1352458514546514. [Epub ahead of print]

Authors/Editors: Biberacher V, Boucard CC, Schmidt P, Engl C, Buck D, Berthele A, Hoshi MM, Zimmer C, Hemmer B, Mühlau M.
Publication Date: 2014

2014_08_biberacher

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Despite agreement about spinal cord atrophy in progressive forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), data on clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) and relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) are conflicting.

OBJECTIVE:
To determine the onset of spinal cord atrophy in the disease course of MS.

METHODS:
Structural brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was acquired from 267 patients with CIS (85) or RRMS (182) and 64 healthy controls (HCs). The upper cervical cord cross-sectional area (UCCA) was determined at the level of C2/C3 by a segmentation tool and adjusted for focal MS lesions. The coefficient of variation (CV) was calculated from all measurements between C2/C3 and 13 mm above as a measure of structural variability.

RESULTS:
Compared to HCs (76.1±6.9 mm2), UCCA was significantly reduced in CIS patients (73.5±5.8 mm2, p=0.018) and RRMS patients (72.4±7.0 mm2, p<0.001). Structural variability was higher in patients than in HCs, particularly but not exclusively in case of focal lesions (mean CV HCs/patients without/with lesions: 2.13%/2.55%/3.32%, all p-values<0.007). UCCA and CV correlated with Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) scores (r =-0.131/0.192, p=0.044/<0.001) and disease duration (r=-0.134/0.300, p=0.039/< 0.001). CV additionally correlated with hand and arm function (r=0.180, p=0.014).

CONCLUSION:
In MS, cervical cord atrophy already occurs in CIS. In early stages, structural variability may be a more meaningful marker of spinal cord pathology than atrophy.

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