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AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2011 Jun-Jul;32(6):1138-42. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A2459. Epub 2011 Apr 28.

A 3T MR imaging investigation of the topography of whole spinal cord atrophy in multiple sclerosis.

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  • 1Laboratory for Neuroimaging Research, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



Spinal cord atrophy is a common feature of MS. However, it is unknown which cord levels are most susceptible to atrophy. We performed whole cord imaging to identify the levels most susceptible to atrophy in patients with MS versus controls and also tested for differences among MS clinical phenotypes.


Thirty-five patients with MS (2 with CIS, 27 with RRMS, 2 with SPMS, and 4 with PPMS phenotypes) and 27 healthy controls underwent whole cord 3T MR imaging. The spinal cord contour was segmented and assigned to bins representing each C1 to T12 vertebral level. Volumes were normalized, and group comparisons were age-adjusted.


There was a trend toward decreased spinal cord volume at the upper cervical levels in PPMS/SPMS versus controls. A trend toward increased spinal cord volume throughout the cervical and thoracic cord in RRMS/CIS versus controls reached statistical significance at the T10 vertebral level. A statistically significant decrease was found in spinal cord volume at the upper cervical levels in PPMS/SPMS versus RRMS/CIS.


Opposing pathologic factors impact spinal cord volume measures in MS. Patients with PPMS demonstrated a trend toward upper cervical cord atrophy. However patients with RRMS showed a trend toward increased volume at the cervical and thoracic levels, which most likely reflects inflammation or edema-related cord expansion. With the disease causing both expansion and contraction of the cord, the specificity of spinal cord volume measures for neuroprotective therapeutic effect may be limited.

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