‘Invisible’ Brain Changes May Be Key to MS Progression

About 400,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. MS is an incurable inflammatory disease of the central nervous system marked by muscle weakness, numbness, and loss of coordination. Disease severity can range from the relatively benign to cases involving serious disability and death. However, new research suggests that subtle, undetected changes in brain tissue affect disease progression for people with MS.

“We showed that these changes affect brain tissue throughout the brain and that changes are greater for patients with secondary progressive MS than for those with the preceding phase, relapsing-remitting MS,” explained lead researcher Hugo Vrenken, of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Many experts consider MS an autoimmune disease, in which the body attacks its own tissues, especially the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerves. In MS patients, standard MRI imaging sometimes reveals brain lesions or plaques that may reflect disease-linked changes in mental or physical function.

Currently, doctors use these images to help diagnose MS. However, an abnormal MRI doesn’t always mean MS, and normal results don’t necessarily rule out the disease.

In fact, a small proportion of MS patients, about 5 percent, have MRI results that don’t reveal