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Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 15;54(2):802-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.08.055. Epub 2010 Sep 15.

Brain atrophy correlates with functional outcome in a murine model of multiple sclerosis.

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Mayo Clinic, Department of Neurology, College of Medicine, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.


White matter (WM) lesions are the classic pathological hallmarks of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, MRI-based WM lesion load shows relatively poor correlation with functional outcome, resulting in the "clinico-radiological paradox" of MS. Unlike lesion based measures, volumetric MRI assessment of brain atrophy shows a strong correlation with functional outcome, and the presence of early atrophy predicts a worse disease course. While extensive literature exists describing MRI characteristics of atrophy in MS, the exact pathogenesis and the substrate of atrophy-gray vs. WM loss, axonal/neuronal damage vs. demyelination, or a combination of the above-remain unclear. Animal models of atrophy would allow for detailed investigations of the pathomechanism, and would contribute to an enhanced understanding of structural-functional connections in this complex disease. We now report that in the Theiler's Murine Encephalitis Virus (TMEV) model of MS in SJL/J mice, significant brain atrophy accompanies the development of the progressive MS-like disease. We conducted volumetric MRI studies in 8 cases and 4 age, gender- and strain-matched control mice. While in controls we did not detect any brain atrophy, significant atrophy developed as early as 3 months into the disease course, and reached its peak by 6 months, resulting in ventricular enlargement by 118% (p=0.00003). A strong correlation (r=-0.88) between atrophy and disability, as assessed by rotarod assay, was also demonstrated. We earlier reported another neurodegenerative feature in this model, the presence of deep gray matter T2 hypointensity in thalamic nuclei. Future studies utilizing this model will allow us to investigate key components of MRI detectable neurodegenerative feature development, their tissue correlations and associations with functional outcome measures. These studies are expected to pave the way to a better understanding of the substrate of disability in MS models.

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