Disruption of neurite morphology parallels MS progression

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ObjectivesTo apply advanced diffusion MRI methods to the study of normal-appearing brain tissue in MS and examine their correlation with measures of clinical disability.MethodsA multi-compartment model of diffusion MRI called neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) was used to study 20 patients with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), 15 with secondary progressive MS (SPMS), and 20 healthy controls. Maps of NODDI were analyzed voxel-wise to assess the presence of abnormalities within the normal-appearing brain tissue and the association with disease severity. Standard diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) parameters were also computed for comparing the 2 techniques.ResultsPatients with MS showed reduced neurite density index (NDI) and increased orientation dispersion index (ODI) compared with controls in several brain areas (p < 0.05), with patients with SPMS having more widespread abnormalities. DTI indices were also sensitive to some changes. In addition, patients with SPMS showed reduced ODI in the thalamus and caudate nucleus. These abnormalities were associated with scores of disease severity (p < 0.05). The association with the MS functional composite score was higher in patients with SPMS compared with patients with RRMS.ConclusionsNODDI and DTI findings are largely overlapping. Nevertheless, NODDI helps interpret previous findings of increased anisotropy in the thalamus of patients with MS and are consistent with the degeneration of selective axon populations.

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