People with MS present disruption of structural brain networks, but the differential characteristics of such changes among MS phenotypes and their clinical impact are not well elucidated.
To characterize diffusion-based brain connectivity abnormalities in different MS phenotypes and their relation with disability in a large cohort of patients.
In this multicenter, retrospective, cross-sectional study, we collected clinical and brain MRI data from 344 patients with MS [median Expanded Disability Status Scale, EDSS 2.0 (range 0-7.0)] and 91 healthy volunteers (HV) from four MAGNIMS centers. Cognition was assessed with the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT) and Symbol Digits Modalities Test (SDMT) in 298 patients. We collected 3D-T1, FLAIR, diffusion-weighted images (DWI) and T2 or field maps acquisitions. FSL and ANTs packages were used to carry out DWI preprocessing and MRtrix software to generate connectivity matrices based on fractional anisotropy values. We computed six network measures (strength, global and local efficiency, clustering coefficient, assortativity and transitivity), and applied the ComBat tool to reduce inter-site variability. We calculated age-adjusted differences in graphs between groups using Mann-Whitney with FDR correction or Kruskal-Wallis with Dunn’s Test when necessary. Associations with clinical features were explored with Spearman’s rank correlation.
Thirty-eight (11%) patients presented a clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), 262 (76%) had relapsing-remitting (RR) and 44 (13%) secondary progressive (SP) MS. CIS patients showed reduced global and local efficiency, clustering coefficient and transitivity compared to HV (corrected p<0.001), whilst RRMS did not differ from CIS patients. Compared with CIS and RRMS, patients with SPMS showed larger changes for the same previous graphs measures (corrected p<0.05), and lower strength than RRMS (corrected p=0.019).
In patients, reduced measures of strength, global and local efficiency, clustering and transitivity correlated with higher EDSS (rho:-0.12–-0.16, corrected p<0.034), lower PASAT (rho:0.26–0.30, corrected p<0.001) and worse SDMT scores (rho:0.28–0.32, corrected p<0.001).
Structural network integrity at the whole brain level is already widely reduced in people with MS from the earliest phases of the disease and becomes more abnormal in SPMS. Network modifications may contribute to the clinical manifestations of the disease.