The changing landscape of motor neuron disease imaging: the transition from descriptive studies to precision clinical tools

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Neuroimaging in motor neuron disease (MND) has traditionally been seen as an academic tool with limited direct relevance to individualized patient care. This has changed radically in recent years as computational imaging has emerged as a viable clinical tool with true biomarker potential. This transition is not only fuelled by technological advances but also by important conceptual developments.

Recent findings

The natural history of MND is now evaluated by presymptomatic, postmortem and multi-timepoint longitudinal imaging studies. The anatomical spectrum of MND imaging has also been expanded from an overwhelmingly cerebral focus to innovative spinal and muscle applications. In contrast to the group-comparisons of previous studies, machine-learning and deep-learning approaches are increasingly utilized to model real-life diagnostic dilemmas and aid prognostic classification. The focus from evaluating focal structural changes has shifted to the appraisal of network integrity by connectivity-based approaches. The armamentarium of MND imaging has also been complemented by novel PET-ligands, spinal toolboxes and the availability of magnetoencephalography and high-field magnetic resonance (MR) imaging platforms.

Summary

In addition to the technological and conceptual advances, collaborative multicentre research efforts have also gained considerable momentum. This opinion-piece reviews emerging trends in MND imaging and their implications to clinical care and drug development.

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