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OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that axonal damage extending into primarily normal-appearing white matter is clinically important by comparing the concentrations of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) bilaterally within the internal capsule with lateralization of motor impairment in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and persistent asymmetrical motor deficit. DESIGN: We performed magnetic resonance spectroscopy and T2-weighted imaging of the internal capsule, calculated central motor conduction times, and related these results to measures of motor function asymmetry in 12 patients with MS. RESULTS: Levels of NAA from normal-appearing white matter of the internal capsule in patients with MS were significantly lower than those in control subjects (P = .05). Side-to-side differences in NAA levels were also significantly greater in patients with MS than in controls (P = .01). There was a correlation between asymmetry in motor function for the left and right limbs and asymmetry of internal capsule NAA concentrations (r = 0.60; P = .04). This correlation seemed slightly stronger when tests specifically of arm and hand motor asymmetry were considered alone. Central motor conduction times were abnormal in most patients with MS and showed a side-to-side difference that also correlated with asymmetry in motor function. CONCLUSION: Our demonstration of a graded association between NAA concentrations within primarily normal-appearing white matter of a specific tract and functional impairments referable to that tract suggests that axonal pathology distant from macroscopic lesions might be an important determinant of disability in MS.


Journal article


Arch Neurol

Publication Date





65 - 70


Adult, Aged, Aspartic Acid, Axons, Electric Stimulation, Female, Humans, Internal Capsule, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Magnetics, Male, Middle Aged, Movement Disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, Neural Conduction