Brain atrophy could predict MS, study finds

Using MRI scans to measure tissue atrophy in the thalamus can accurately predict multiple sclerosis, according to new research, pointing the way to a more reliable biomarker than current methods.

In a study published in Radiology, researchers at the University at Buffalo looked at patients who had suffered from clinically isolated syndrome, a short-term neurological episode that often occurs before the full onset of MS. Over two years, about 43% of the patients developed the disorder, and each experienced decreased tissue volume in the brain's thalamic region.

"First, these results show that atrophy of the thalamus is associated with MS," investigator Robert Zivadinov said in a statement. "Second, they show that thalamic atrophy is a better predictor of clinically definite MS than accumulation of T2-weighted and contrast-enhanced lesions."

Thalamic atrophy is an ideal biomarker for MS because it can be detected at very early stages, Zivadinov said, and the researchers hope their findings can be used to identify patients at high risk for MS development in future clinical trials.

More than 2 million people around the world suffer from MS, an incurable condition in which the body's immune system attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and about 85% of MS patients first experience clinically isolated syndrome.

Next, the Buffalo team is planning a four-year follow up on the patients, looking to find out more about the physiological relationship between thalamic density and MS. Despite identifying a link between the two, atrophy cannot entirely be explained by MS-caused lesions, Zivadinov said, and there must be some independent factor contributing to the phenomenon.

- read the statement
- check out the study abstract

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