BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Considering the great heterogeneity of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the identification of accurate prognostic predictors is fundamental for both the clinical practice and the design of treatment trials. This study aimed to explore the progression of clinical and structural brain changes in patients with ALS, and to assess magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures of brain damage as predictors of subsequent functional decline.
METHODS: 50 ALS patients underwent clinical evaluations and 3 T MRI scans at regular intervals for a maximum of 2 years (total MRI scans = 164). MRI measures of cortical thickness, as well as diffusion tensor (DT) metrics of microstructural damage along white matter (WM) tracts were obtained. Voxel-wise regression models and longitudinal mixed-effects models were used to test the relationship between clinical decline and baseline and longitudinal MRI features.
RESULTS: The rate of decline of the ALS Functional Rating Scale revised (ALSFRS-r) was significantly associated with the rate of fractional anisotropy (FA) decrease in the body of the corpus callosum (CC). Corticospinal tract (CST) and CC-body alterations had a faster progression in patients with higher baseline ALSFRS-r scores and greater CC-body disruption at baseline. Lower FA of the cerebral peduncle was associated with faster subsequent clinical progression.
CONCLUSIONS: In this longitudinal study, we identified a significant association between measures of WM damage of the motor tracts and functional decline in ALS patients. Our data suggest that a multiparametric approach including DT MRI measures of brain damage would provide an optimal method for an accurate stratification of ALS patients into prognostic classes.