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Brain and cord myelin water imaging: a progressive multiple sclerosis biomarker

Shannon Kolind, Arshia Seddigh, Anna Combes, Bretta Russell-Schulz, Roger Tam, Vignan Yogendrakumar, Sean Deoni, Naomi A. Sibtain, Anthony Traboulsee, Steven C.R. Williams, Gareth J. Barker, Peter A. Brex

NeuroImage: Clinical, Volume 9, 2015, Pages 574–580



  • A biomarker is needed to evaluate therapies for primary progressive MS (PPMS).

  • We used novel MRI providing both general atrophy and specific myelin measures.

  • We studied brain and cervical spinal cord in PPMS and healthy controls.

  • Brain and spinal cord volume and myelin measures were reduced in PPMS vs controls.

  • MRI measures described cognitive, fine motor and ambulatory disability scores.



Conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to diagnose and monitor inflammatory disease in relapsing remitting (RR) multiple sclerosis (MS). In the less common primary progressive (PP) form of MS, in which focal inflammation is less evident, biomarkers are still needed to enable evaluation of novel therapies in clinical trials. Our objective was to characterize the association — across the brain and cervical spinal cord — between clinical disability measures in PPMS and two potential biomarkers (one for myelin, and one for atrophy, both resulting from the same imaging technique).


Multi-component driven equilibrium single pulse observation of T1 and T2 (mcDESPOT) MRI of the brain and cervical spinal cord were obtained for 15 PPMS patients and 11 matched controls. Data were analysed to estimate the signal related to myelin water (VFM), as well as volume measurements. MS disability was assessed using the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite score, which includes measures of cognitive processing (Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test), manual dexterity (9-Hole Peg Test) and ambulatory function (Timed 25-Foot Walk); and the Expanded Disability Status Scale.


Brain and spinal cord volumes were different in PPMS compared to controls, particularly ventricular (+ 46%, p = 0.0006) and cervical spinal cord volume (− 16%, p = 0.0001). Brain and spinal cord myelin (VFM) were also reduced in PPMS (brain: − 11%, p = 0.01; spine: − 19%, p = 0.000004). Cognitive processing correlated with brain ventricular volume (p = 0.009). Manual dexterity correlated with brain ventricular volume (p = 0.007), and both brain and spinal cord VFM (p = 0.01 and 0.06, respectively). Ambulation correlated with spinal cord volume (p = 0.04) and spinal cord VFM (p = 0.04).


In this study we demonstrated that mcDESPOT can be used to measure myelin and atrophy in the brain and spinal cord. Results correlate well with clinical disability scores in PPMS representing cognitive, fine motor and ambulatory disability.

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About the Editors

  • Prof Timothy Vartanian

    Timothy Vartanian, Professor at the Brain and Mind Research Institute and the Department of Neurology, Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell...
  • Dr Claire S. Riley

    Claire S. Riley, MD is an assistant attending neurologist and assistant professor of neurology in the Neurological Institute, Columbia University,...
  • Dr Rebecca Farber

    Rebecca Farber, MD is an attending neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at the Neurological Institute, Columbia University, in New...

This online Resource Centre has been made possible by a donation from EMD Serono, Inc., a business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

Note that EMD Serono, Inc., has no editorial control or influence over the content of this Resource Centre. The Resource Centre and all content therein are subject to an independent editorial review.

The Grant for Multiple Sclerosis Innovation
supports promising translational research projects by academic researchers to improve understanding of multiple sclerosis (MS) for the ultimate benefit of patients.  For full information and application details, please click here

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Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, September 2015, Vol 4 Issue 5