Ongoing microstructural changes in the cervical cord underpin disability progression in early primary progressive multiple sclerosis

Rosa Cortese, Carmen Tur, Ferran Prados, Torben Schneider, Baris Kanber, Marcello Moccia, Claudia A. M. Gandini Wheeler-Kingshott, Alan J. Thompson, Frederik Barkhof, Olga Ciccarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Pathology in the spinal cord of patients with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) contributes to disability progression. We previously reported abnormal Q-space imaging (QSI)-derived indices in the spinal cord at baseline in patients with early PPMS, suggesting early neurodegeneration. Objective: The aim was to investigate whether changes in spinal cord QSI over 3 years in the same cohort are associated with disability progression and if baseline QSI metrics predict clinical outcome. Methods: Twenty-three PPMS patients and 23 healthy controls recruited at baseline were invited for follow-up cervical cord 3T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and clinical assessment after 1 year and 3 years. Cord cross-sectional area (CSA) and QSI measures were obtained, together with standard brain MRI measures. Mixed-effect models assessed MRI changes over time and their association with clinical changes. Linear regression identified baseline MRI indices associated with disability at 3 years. Results: Over time, patients deteriorated clinically and showed an increase in cord QSI indices of perpendicular diffusivity that was associated with disability worsening, independently of the decrease in CSA. Higher perpendicular diffusivity and lower CSA at baseline predicted worse disability at 3 years. Conclusion: Increasing spinal cord perpendicular diffusivity may indicate ongoing neurodegeneration, which underpins disability progression in PPMS, independently of the development of spinal cord atrophy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-38
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Multiple sclerosis
  • diffusion
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • progressive
  • spinal cord

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