Thalamic neurodegeneration in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
Wylezinska M., Cifelli A., Jezzard P., Palace J., Alecci M., Matthews PM.
OBJECTIVE: To define the extent of neuronal injury and loss in thalamic gray matter in patients with relapsing-remitting (RR) MS and to characterize how these neuronal pathologic changes are related to disease duration. METHODS: The authors studied 14 patients with RRMS (Expanded Disability Status Scale score, mean 3.25, range 2.0 to 6.0) and 14 (8 men, 6 women) age-matched healthy controls. Structural MR and MRS studies were performed in a single scanning session using a 3T MR system. RESULTS: N-acetylaspartate (NAA) concentrations (a measure of the apparent neuronal density) were decreased approximately 11% in the thalami of the patients with RRMS relative to controls (p < 0.05). The patients with RRMS also had an almost 25% lower mean normalized thalamic volume than controls (p < 0.005). Decreases in thalamic NAA concentration correlated strongly with thalamic volume loss for individual patients (r = 0.85, p < 0.01). Both the NAA concentration (r = -0.48, p = 0.044) and normalized thalamic volume (r = -0.60, p = 0.01) were correlated inversely with disease duration. There was a trend for a correlation between the thalamic NAA/creatine (Cr) ratio and the NAA/Cr in the frontal normal-appearing white matter (r = 0.56, p < 0.08). CONCLUSIONS: The reduction of both NAA concentration and thalamic volume suggests that a neurodegenerative component may contribute to the pathology of MS even in the earlier RR stage. The trend toward a relationship between thalamic NAA/Cr and distant normal-appearing white matter changes implies that there may be a common mechanism for the white matter axonal loss and thalamic neuronal injury.