BACKGROUND: MS is associated not only with focal inflammatory lesions but also diffuse pathology in the CNS. Since there is no firm association between the amount of focal inflammatory lesions and disease severity, diffuse pathology in normal appearing white matter (NAWM) may be crucial for disease progression. Immunomodulating treatments for MS reduce the number of focal lesions, but possible effects on diffuse white matter pathology are less studied. Furthermore, it is not known whether intrathecal levels of inflammatory or neurodegenerative markers are associated with development of pathology in NAWM.
METHODS: Quantitative proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS)* was used to investigate NAWM in 27 MSers with relapsing MS before and after one year of treatment with natalizumab as well as NAWM in 20 healthy controls at baseline. Changes in (1)H-MRS metabolite concentrations during treatment were also correlated with a panel of intrathecal markers of inflammation and neurodegeneration in 24 of these 27 MSers.
* Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS) – this is a MRI technique that is used to quantify nerve cells and axonal numbers.
RESULTS: The group levels of (1)H-MRS metabolite concentrations were unchanged pre-to post-treatment but a pattern of high magnitude correlation coefficients (r = 0.43-0.67, p<0.0005-0.03) were found between changes in individual metabolite concentrations (total creatine and total choline) and levels of pro-inflammatory markers (IL-1β and CXCL8).
CONCLUSIONS: Despite a clinical improvement and a global decrease in levels of inflammatory markers in cerebrospinal fluid during treatment, high levels of pro-inflammatory CXCL8 and IL-1β were associated with an increase in (1)H-MRS metabolites indicative of continued gliosis development and membrane turnover in NAWM.