Evidence for widespread axonal damage at the earliest clinical stage of multiple sclerosis

Massimo Filippi, M. Bozzali, M. Rovaris, O. Gonen, C. Kesavadas, A. Ghezzi, V. Martinelli, R. I. Grossman, G. Scotti, G. Comi, A. Falini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although axonal pathology is recognized as one of the major pathological features of multiple sclerosis, it is less clear how early in its course it occurs and how it correlates with MRI-visible lesion loads. To assess this early axonal pathology, we quantified the concentration of whole-brain N-acetylaspartate (WBNAA) in a group of patients at the earliest clinical stage of the disease and compared the results with those from healthy controls. Conventional brain MRI and WBNAA using unlocalized proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy were obtained from 31 patients at presentation with clinically isolated syndromes suggestive of multiple sclerosis and paraclinical evidence of dissemination in space, and from 16 matched controls. An additional conventional MRI scan was obtained in all patients 4-6 months later to detect dissemination of lesions in time. The mean WBNAA concentration was significantly lower in patients compared with the controls (P <0.0001). It was not significantly different between patients with and without enhancing lesions at the baseline MRI or between patients with and without lesion dissemination in time. No correlation was found between WBNAA concentrations and lesion volumes. Widespread axonal pathology, largely independent of MRI-visible inflammation and too extensive to be completely reversible, occurs in patients even at the earliest clinical stage of multiple sclerosis. This finding lessens the validity of the current concept that the axonal pathology of multiple sclerosis is the end-stage result of repeated inflammatory events, and argues strongly in favour of early neuroprotective intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-437
Number of pages5
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2003


  • Axonal pathology
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Whole-brain N-acetylaspartate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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