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Amyotroph Lateral Scler. 2009 Oct-Dec;10(5-6):269-79. doi: 10.3109/17482960902777339.

Structural and metabolic changes in the brain of patients with upper motor neuron disorders: a multiparametric MRI study.

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Neuroimaging Research Unit, Scientific Institute and University Ospedale San Raffaele, via Olgettina 60, Milan, Italy.


Our objective was to assess and compare the diagnostic sensitivity of conventional MRI (cMRI), magnetization transfer imaging (MTI), diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging ((1)H-MRSI) in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). Thirty-eight ALS patients, nine PLS patients, and 22 healthy controls were enrolled. cMRI, MTI, DWI and (1)H-MRSI were obtained. ALS patients were classified as advanced phase (Ap)-ALS (definite+probable) and early phase (Ep)-ALS (possible+probable-laboratory supported). cMRI was highly sensitive in detecting corticospinal tract (CST) hyperintensities in Ap-ALS (63.4%) and PLS (71.9%), but it was poorly sensitive in Ep-ALS (17.1%). Hyperintensity on proton density-weighted images correlated with ALS severity (p=0.02). CST apparent diffusion coefficient was significantly increased in ALS (p<0.01) and PLS (p=0.02) versus controls. The N-acetylaspartate/creatine ratio was significantly reduced in the motor cortex of patients versus controls (p< or = 0.01 in PLS, p=0.02 in Ap-ALS). The study shows the utility of cMRI for diagnosing ALS. Nevertheless, MRI sensitivity is limited at the early stages of the disease. In these cases, DWI and (1)H-MRSI seem to have the potential to ameliorate the patients' work-up and estimate the nature and extent of the underlying pathological damage.

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