Introduction Progressive brain atrophy, development of T1-hypointense areas, and T2-fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR)-hyperintense lesion formation in multiple sclerosis (MS) are popular volumetric data that are often utilized as clinical outcomes. However, the exact clinical interpretation of these volumetric data has not yet been fully established. Methods We enrolled 42 consecutive patients with MS who fulfilled the revised McDonald criteria of 2010. They were followed-up for more than 3 years from onset, and cross-sectional brain volumetry was performed. Patients with no brain lesions were excluded in advance from this study. For the brain volumetric data, we evaluated several parameters including age-adjusted gray-matter volume atrophy, age-adjusted white-matter volume atrophy, and T2-FLAIR lesion volume. The numbers of T1-hypointense and T2-FLAIR-hyperintense areas were also measured along the same timeline. The clinical data pertaining to disease duration, expanded disability status scale (EDSS), and MS severity score (MSSS) at the timing of volumetry were collected. Results Among the 42 patients with MS and brain lesions, the number of T1-hypointensity (rho = 0.51, p<0.001), gray-matter atrophy (rho = 0.40, p<0.01) and white-matter atrophy (rho = 0.49, p<0.001) correlated with the EDSS. T1-hypointensity count divided by FLAIR lesion volume correlated with the MSSS (rho = 0.60, p<0.001). Meanwhile, counts or volumes of FLAIR-hyperintense lesions were associated only with the times of past relapses, and did not correlate with present neurological disability level or ongoing disease activity. These findings were consistent regardless of the presence of spinal cord lesions. Conclusion Numbers of T1-hypointensities and brain atrophy equally indicated the current neurological disability in MS. The number of T1-hypointensities divided by FLAIR lesion volume represented the clinical severity. The size or number of FLAIR lesions reflected earlier relapses but was not a good indicator of neurological disability or clinical severity.
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