MRI cortical feature of bulbar impairment in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Graziella Donatelli, E. Caldarazzo Ienco, M. Costagli, Gianmichele Migaleddu, P. Cecchi, Gabriele Siciliano, M. Cosottini

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The decline of voluntary bulbar functions such as speech and swallowing are among the clinical manifestations of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) influencing a worst prognosis. Differential diagnosis between the contribution of upper motor neuron (UMN) and lower motor neuron degeneration to the bulbar impairment is often hard. Thinning and T2* hypointensity of the primary motor cortex have been recently suggested as possible MRI markers of UMN impairment in ALS patients, but little research has purposely targeted the orofacial region of the primary motor cortex (fM1). With the aim of finding an MRI marker of UMN impairment responsible for bulbar dysfunction, we investigated the T2* signal intensity of fM1 and the relationship with bulbar impairment in ALS patients. Fifty-five ALS patients were examined with 3 T MRI. Their fM1 was evaluated both qualitatively in terms of T2* signal intensity and quantitatively by measuring its magnetic susceptibility with Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping (QSM). Bulbar functions were assessed clinically, by neurological examination and using the items 1–3 of the ALSFRS-R, and with neurophysiological tests. The marked hypointensity of fM1 was detected in 25% of ALS patients, including all patients with bulbar onset, and was 74% sensitive, 100% specific and 91% accurate in diagnosing functional bulbar impairment. Such hypointensity involved the middle and ventral part of fM1 and was usually visible in both hemispheres. The magnetic susceptibility was significantly higher in patients with marked fM1 hypointensity than in the other patients (p ≤ .001). The relationship with clinical and neurophysiological data suggests that such feature could be a marker of UMN degeneration for voluntary bulbar functions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101934
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Publication statusPublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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