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J Neurol Sci. 1999 Jun 15;166(1):16-22.

Proton MR spectroscopy in clinically isolated syndromes suggestive of multiple sclerosis.

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NMR Research Unit, Institute of Neurology, London, UK.


The concentration of the metabolite N-acetyl aspartate (NAA), thought to be a marker of axonal loss or damage, has been shown to be reduced in lesions, as demonstrated by high signal areas on T2-weighted MRI, and in normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) in established multiple sclerosis (MS). The stage of the disease when these changes first appear is not known. To try to determine this we studied 20 patients with clinically isolated syndromes, many of whom will be at the earliest clinical stages of MS, and 20 age- and sex-matched controls with single-voxel proton magnetic spectroscopy (MRS). MRS was performed using a General Electric 1.5T Signa EchoSpeed scanner (TR 3000 ms, TE 30 ms, PRESS). Absolute metabolite concentrations were determined using the LCModel fitting software. No significant reduction of NAA concentration was evident in the NAWM of the patients (patients: median 7.3 mM; controls: median 7.7 mM; P=0.19). There was, however, a significantly lower concentration of NAA in lesions (median 6.6 mM, P=0.015). Absolute values of choline-containing compounds, creatine and myo-inositol were significantly raised in the lesions (P=0.007, P=0.011 and P=0.002 respectively). The low NAA in lesions is consistent with axonal loss, damage or dysfunction occurring focally at the earliest clinical phase of the disease. The lack of any significant reduction in NAA in patient NAWM demonstrates that more widespread axonal changes are not yet detectable at this early clinical stage. A larger cohort and follow-up will be necessary to determine whether or not MRS findings have any prognostic significance for individual patients or sub-groups. This will also enable the clarification of the time course, pathogenesis and pathophysiological significance of the development of the low NAA, which is found in the NAWM of many patients with established MS.

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