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Brain shrinkage predicts MS disability progression 

A UCL-led research team can now better predict the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) after identifying patterns of tissue loss in the brain. 

The study was one of the largest brain imaging studies ever conducted in MS and led to novel insights into the mechanisms of damage in MS. 

Researchers collected data from seven research centres in Europe (UK, Italy, Spain, Austria and the Netherlands) that are involved in the MAGNIMS consortium. They analysed MRI scans and disability measures from over 1200 MS patients studied for more than 2 years. 

The team found that the deep grey matter (which is deep in the brain) lost volume faster than the grey matter of other brain regions. They also found that the greater the loss of deep grey matter volume, the further the progression of disability in MS patients. The strongest relationship was found in the thalamus, the largest component of deep grey matter, which is involved in relaying sensory and motor signals to the rest of the brain. 

Professor Olga Ciccarelli, who is supported by the BRC and the senior author of the study, said: “We have demonstrated that deep grey matter atrophy is linked to disability progression in multiple sclerosis by using MRI and collecting a large number of MRI scans, because of the effort of many European researchers.” 

The deep grey matter volume, and, in particular, thalamic volume, may become targets of Phase II clinical trials investigating the potential of new neuroprotective drugs in MS. To read the full paper, visit Annals of Neurology.