Five-year longitudinal changes in quantitative spinal cord MRI in multiple sclerosis

Jiwon Oh*, Min Chen, Kateryna Cybulsky, Suradech Suthiphosuwan, Estelle Seyman, Blake Dewey, Marie Diener-West, Peter van Zijl, Jerry Prince, Daniel S. Reich, Peter A. Calabresi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The spinal cord (SC) is highly relevant to disability in multiple sclerosis (MS), but few studies have evaluated longitudinal changes in quantitative spinal cord magnetic resonance imaging (SC-MRI). Objectives: The aim of this study was to characterize the relationships between 5-year changes in SC-MRI with disability in MS. Methods: In total, 75 MS patients underwent 3 T SC-MRI and clinical assessment (expanded disability status scale (EDSS) and MS functional composite (MSFC)) at baseline, 2 and 5 years. SC-cross-sectional area (CSA) and diffusion-tensor indices (fractional anisotropy (FA), mean, perpendicular, parallel diffusivity (MD, λ, λ||) and magnetization transfer ratio (MTR)) were extracted at C3–C4. Mixed-effects regression incorporating subject-specific slopes assessed longitudinal change in SC-MRI measures. Results: SC-CSA and MTR decreased (p = 0.009, p = 0.03) over 5.1 years. There were moderate correlations between 2- and 5-year subject-specific slopes of SC-MRI indices and follow-up EDSS scores (Pearson’s r with FA = −0.23 (p < 0.001); MD = 0.31 (p < 0.001); λ = 0.34 (p < 0.001); λ|| = −0.12 (p = 0.05), MTR = −0.37 (p < 0.001); SC-CSA = −0.47 (p < 0.001) at 5 years); MSFC showed similar trends. The 2- and 5-year subject-specific slopes were robustly correlated (r = 0.93–0.97 for FA, λ, SC-CSA and MTR, all ps < 0.001). Conclusion: In MS, certain quantitative SC-MRI indices change over 5 years, reflecting ongoing tissue changes. Subject-specific trajectories of SC-MRI index change at 2 and 5 years are strongly correlated and highly relevant to follow-up disability. These findings suggest that individual dynamics of change should be accounted for when interpreting longitudinal SC-MRI measures and that measuring short-term change is predictive of long-term clinical disability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-558
Number of pages10
JournalMultiple Sclerosis Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Multiple sclerosis
  • diffusion-tensor imaging
  • magnetization-transfer imaging
  • quantitative MRI
  • spinal cord


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