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Multiple sclerosis MRI technique can spot tissue damage months before an MS attack

A study published in this week’s Neurology found that a relatively new MRI technique could spot changes in the brain up to three months before inflammation causes a multiple sclerosis (MS) attack.

Traditionally, we have viewed MS as a disease where the immune system attacks the brain, causing the abrupt onset of inflammation (measured by gadolinium enhancement). This inflammation causes damage to the brain, which causes symptoms.

The new technique, called susceptibility-weighted imaging, allows researchers to see that tissue damage is happening up to three months prior to the inflammation.

Susceptibility-weighted imaging measures the amount of magnetic susceptibility of tissues aligned in different directions. The amount of alignment in different directions is called the phase image. In tissues like myelin, the magnetic susceptibility lines up with the direction of the myelin because molecules can move alongside the myelin more easily than they can move across it.

When myelin is damaged, the tissue becomes disorganized and magnetic susceptibility changes from aligning primarily in one direction to alignment in many different directions. The phase image can be used to measure the degree of myelin damage.

In this study, 20 patients ...

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