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Cervical cord myelin water imaging shows degenerative changes over one year in multiple sclerosis but not neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder

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Anna J.E. Combes, Lucy Matthews, Jimmy S. Lee, David K.B. Li, Robert Carruthers, Anthony L. Traboulsee, Gareth J. Barker, Jacqueline Palace, Shannon Kolind

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Early online date16 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jun 2017


King's Authors


Spinal cord pathology is a feature of both neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) and relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS). While subclinical disease activity has been described in MS using quantitative magnetic resonance imaging measures, current evidence suggests that neurodegeneration is absent between relapses in NMOSD, although most evidence comes from brain studies.

We aimed to assess cross-sectional differences and longitudinal changes in myelin integrity in relapse-free MS and NMOSD subjects over one year. 15 NMOSD, 15 MS subjects, and 17 healthy controls were scanned at 3 T using a cervical cord mcDESPOT protocol. A subset of 8 NMOSD, 11 MS subjects and 14 controls completed follow-up. Measures of the myelin water fraction (fM) within lesioned and non-lesioned cord segments were collected. At baseline, fM in lesioned and non-lesioned segments was significantly reduced in MS (lesioned: p = 0.002; non-lesioned: p = 0.03) and NMOSD (lesioned: p = 0.0007; non-lesioned: p = 0.002) compared to controls. Longitudinally, fM decreased within non-lesioned cord segments in the MS group (− 7.3%, p = 0.02), but not in NMOSD (+ 5.8%, p = 0.1), while change in lesioned segments fM did not differ from controls' in either patient group.

These results suggest that degenerative changes outside of lesioned areas can be observed over a short time frame in MS, but not NMOSD, and support the use of longitudinal myelin water imaging for the assessment of pathological changes in the cervical cord in demyelinating diseases.

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