Multiple sclerosis lesions affect intrinsic functional connectivity of the spinal cord.

Conrad BN, Barry RL, Rogers BP, Maki S, Mishra A, Thukral S, Sriram S, Bhatia A, Pawate S, Gore JC, Smith SA
Brain. 2018 141 (6): 1650-1664

PMID: 29648581 · PMCID: PMC5972586 · DOI:10.1093/brain/awy083

Patients with multiple sclerosis present with focal lesions throughout the spinal cord. There is a clinical need for non-invasive measurements of spinal cord activity and functional organization in multiple sclerosis, given the cord's critical role in the disease. Recent reports of spontaneous blood oxygenation level-dependent fluctuations in the spinal cord using functional MRI suggest that, like the brain, cord activity at rest is organized into distinct, synchronized functional networks among grey matter regions, likely related to motor and sensory systems. Previous studies looking at stimulus-evoked activity in the spinal cord of patients with multiple sclerosis have demonstrated increased levels of activation as well as a more bilateral distribution of activity compared to controls. Functional connectivity studies of brain networks in multiple sclerosis have revealed widespread alterations, which may take on a dynamic trajectory over the course of the disease, with compensatory increases in connectivity followed by decreases associated with structural damage. We build upon this literature by examining functional connectivity in the spinal cord of patients with multiple sclerosis. Using ultra-high field 7 T imaging along with processing strategies for robust spinal cord functional MRI and lesion identification, the present study assessed functional connectivity within cervical cord grey matter of patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (n = 22) compared to a large sample of healthy controls (n = 56). Patient anatomical images were rated for lesions by three independent raters, with consensus ratings revealing 19 of 22 patients presented with lesions somewhere in the imaged volume. Linear mixed models were used to assess effects of lesion location on functional connectivity. Analysis in control subjects demonstrated a robust pattern of connectivity among ventral grey matter regions as well as a distinct network among dorsal regions. A gender effect was also observed in controls whereby females demonstrated higher ventral network connectivity. Wilcoxon rank-sum tests detected no differences in average connectivity or power of low frequency fluctuations in patients compared to controls. The presence of lesions was, however, associated with local alterations in connectivity with differential effects depending on columnar location. The patient results suggest that spinal cord functional networks are generally intact in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis but that lesions are associated with focal abnormalities in intrinsic connectivity. These findings are discussed in light of the current literature on spinal cord functional MRI and the potential neurological underpinnings.

MeSH Terms (16)

Adult Correlation of Data Disability Evaluation Female Functional Laterality Gray Matter Humans Image Processing, Computer-Assisted Magnetic Resonance Imaging Male Middle Aged Multiple Sclerosis Nerve Net Oxygen Spinal Cord Young Adult

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