Magnetic resonance techniques to quantify tissue damage, tissue repair, and functional cortical reorganization in multiple sclerosis

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A dramatic paradigm shift is taking place in our understanding of the pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis (MS). An important contribution to such a shift has been made possible by the advances in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, which allows structural damage to be quantified in the brains of patients with MS and to be followed over the course of the disease. Modern quantitative MR techniques have reshaped the picture of MS, leading to the definition of the so- called "axonal hypothesis" (i.e., changes in axonal metabolism, morphology, or density are important determinants of functional impairment in MS). Metrics derived from magnetization transfer and diffusion-weighted MRI enable us to quantify the extent of structural changes occurring within T2-visible lesions and normal-appearing tissues (including gray matter), with increased pathological specificity over conventional MRI to irreversible tissue damage; proton MR spectroscopy adds valuable pieces of information on the biochemical nature of such changes. Finally, functional MRI can provide new insights into the role of cortical adaptive changes in limiting the clinical consequences of MS-related irreversible structural damage. Our current understanding of the pathophysiology of MS is that this is not only a disease of the white matter, characterized by focal inflammatory lesions, but also a disease involving more subtle and diffuse damage throughout the white and gray matter. The inflammatory and neurodegenerative components of the disease process are present from the earliest observable phases of the disease, but appear to be, at least partially, dissociated. In addition, recovery and repair play an important role in the genesis of the clinical manifestations of the disease, involving both structural changes and plastic reorganization of the cortex. This new picture of MS has important implications in the context of treatment options, since it suggests that agents that protect against neurodegeneration or promote tissue repair may have an important role to play alongside agents acting on the inflammatory component of the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-482
Number of pages18
JournalProgress in Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • disability
  • functional reorganization
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • multiple sclerosis
  • tissue damage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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