Sodium in the brain marks disability in MS

The accumulation of sodium in the brain can be seen as orange in these scans of MS patients' brains--Courtesy of Radiology

A simple buildup of sodium in the brains of people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) that can be seen using imaging could be a marker of disability and damage, according to researchers in France and Germany. The sodium levels could be used to monitor the progress of patients' disease, or track the effects of disease-modifying treatments currently in development.

Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis is the most common form of MS. Patients have attacks and then partially or completely recover, but some attacks will leave long-term nerve damage, so that the disease gradually worsens.

The researchers used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to look at the brains of 14 people with early RRMS, 12 people with advanced RRMS, and 15 healthy people. They found increased concentrations of sodium in specific brain regions in patients with early disease, and increased levels throughout the brain in patients with advanced disease, even in tissues that appeared normal. There was a connection between sodium concentration in the motor regions of the brain and levels of disability. The research was published in Radiology.

"A major challenge with multiple sclerosis is providing patients with a prognosis of disease progression," said Patrick Cozzone, director emeritus of the Center for Magnetic Resonance in Biology and Medicine, a joint unit of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France. "It's very hard to predict the course of the disease."

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