Early macrophage MRI of inflammatory lesions predicts lesion severity and disease development in relapsing EAE

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is of great utility in diagnosis and monitoring of multiple sclerosis (MS). Axonal loss is considered the main cause of accumulating irreversible disability. MRI using ultrasmall-super-paramagnetic-iron-oxide (USPIO) nanoparticles is a new technique to disclose in vivo central nervous system (CNS) inflammatory lesions infiltrated by macrophages in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Here, we raised the question of whether USPIO-enhanced MRI could serve as a tool to predict disease severity. We investigated, in a relapsing EAE model with various degrees of disease severity, the interindividual differences at the beginning of CNS inflammation as revealed in vivo by MRI with USPIO in correlation to the severity of both acute and chronic tissue damage including axonal loss. At the onset of the disease, observation of MRI alterations with USPIO allowed assignment of animals into USPIO+ and USPIO− groups. In 54.5% of diseased rats, MRI with USPIO+ at first attack revealed signal abnormalities mainly localized in the brainstem and cerebellum. Although animals did not present any clinically significant differences during the first attack, USPIO+ rats presented significantly more important tissue alterations at the first attack (onset and initiated recovery phase) and, at the second attack, more severe clinical disease with axonal loss compared to USPIO− rats. MRI lesion load and volume at the first attack correlate significantly with inflammation, macrophage recruitment, demyelination, acute axonal damage and, at the second attack, extent of axonal loss. This new MRI application of in vivo monitoring of macrophage infiltration provides a new platform to investigate the severity of inflammatory demyelinating CNS diseases.

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