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Refined MRI technique finds link between gray matter demyelination and MS severity


Using a refined MRI technique, researchers discovered that patients with multiple sclerosis lose myelin in the gray matter of their brains in relative amounts equal to or greater than myelin loss in the brain’s white matter. The study showed that gray matter loss is closely correlated with the severity of the disease. The findings could have important applications in clinical trials and treatment monitoring.

Medical scientists used a refined MRI technique, known as macromolecular proton fraction (MPF) mapping, to provide information on the content of molecules present in tissues, such as proteins, lipids and carbohydrates.

According to the study’s lead author Dr. Vasily L. Yarnykh, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Radiology at University of Washington in Seattle, the results showed that MPF was significantly lower in both white and gray matter in RRMS patients. It was also significantly reduced in both normal-appearing brain tissues and lesions of SPMS patients compared to RRMS patients with the largest relative decrease in gray matter. MPF in brain tissues of MS patients significantly correlated with clinical disability and the strongest associations were found for gray matter.

"The major finding of the study is that the loss of myelin in gray matter caused by MS in its relative amount is comparable to or even larger than that in white matter," said Yarnykh.

The improved MRI technique could have important uses in MS treatments targeted to protect and restore myelin. It may offer an objective measure of disease progression and treatment success in clinical trials. Assessment of both gray and white matter damage with this method may become an individual patient management tool in the future, according to Yarnykh.

The study appears online in the journal Radiology.

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