SC pathology occurs early in the course of MS. However, few studies have investigated the relationship between lesions, diffuse changes and mean upper cervical cord area (MUCCA) in MS patients with different levels of disability in detail.
To explore spinal cord (SC) pathology in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with different levels of disability and MS phenotypes.
638 MS patients with different degrees of disability and 102 healthy controls (HC) underwent MRI on a 3T (MAGNETOM Skyra, Siemens Healthcare, Erlangen, Germany). The MRI protocol comprised transversal 3D-T2WI for MUCCA, sagittal T2WI-Fat-Sat and PDWI for SC pathology, and 3D-MPRAGE for regional brain volume (BV). MUCCA was measured automatically between the C3 and C4 vertebra (ScanView.cz). Global and regional BVs were estimated by the fully automated MorphoBox prototype (Siemens Healthcare, Erlangen, Germany). Diffuse changes, number and location of SC lesions were assessed manually. Patients and HC were matched by sex and age using propensity scores. MUCCA, regional BVs and SC pathology were compared among matched subgroups of: 54 patients with mild disability (EDSS=<1.5), 54 patients with mild-to-moderate disability (EDSS 2-3.5), 54 patients with severe disability (EDSS 4-4.5), 54 patients with very severe disability (EDSS>=5), 18 primary progressive (PP) patients, and 54 controls from the HC group. ANOVA test was used for between-group comparison.
There was a trend of lower MUCCA with higher disability level. Mean MUCCA was 76.5±10.8 mm2 invery severe, 80.1±9.6 mm2 in severe, 85.7±8.0 mm2 in moderate, 85.6±8.5 mm2 in mild disability, and 90±7.7 mm2 in HC groups. There was a significant difference in MUCCA between HC and mild disability group (p<0.001). SC pathology was prominent in 64.1% of the patients with mild disability, compared to 90.4% patients with very severe disability. The percentage of diffuse changes varied greatly between the groups, with prevalence increasing almost four times between patients with mild and very severe disability.
SC pathology is present in all disability MS groups. MUCCA differentiated between patients with mild disability and healthy controls, suggesting that it may be promising for the implementation in diagnostic protocols. The evaluation of diffuse changes can help to predict disability. Low MUCCA together with prominent diffuse changes could help differentiate PP MS from other MS phenotypes.