Conduction delays in the visual pathways of progressive multiple sclerosis patients covary with brain structure


  • S. Berman
  • Y. Backner
  • R. Krupnik
  • F. Paul
  • P. Petrou
  • D. Karussis
  • N. Levin
  • A.A. Mezer


  • NeuroImage


  • NeuroImage 221: 117204


  • In developed countries, multiple sclerosis (MS) is the leading cause of non-traumatic neurological disability in young adults. MS is a chronic demyelinating disease of the central nervous system, in which myelin is attacked, changing white matter structure and leaving lesions. The demyelination has a direct effect on white matter conductivity. This effect can be examined in the visual system, where damage is highly prevalent in MS, leading to substantial delays in conduction, commonly measured with visual evoked potentials (VEPs). The structural damage to the visual system in MS is often estimated with MRI measurements in the white matter. Recent developments in quantitative MRI (qMRI) provide improved sensitivity to myelin content and new structural methods allow better modeling of the axonal structure, leading researchers to link white matter microstructure to conduction properties of action potentials along fiber tracts. This study attempts to explain the variance in conduction latencies down the visual pathway using structural measurements of both the retina and the optic radiation (OR). Forty-eight progressive MS patients, participants in a longitudinal stem-cell therapy clinical trial, were included in this study, three and six months post final treatment. Twenty-seven patients had no history of optic neuritis, and were the main focus of this study. All participants underwent conventional MRI scans, as well as diffusion MRI and qMRI sequences to account for white matter microstructure. Optical coherence tomography scans were also obtained, and peripapillary retinal nerve fiber layer (pRNFL) thickness and macular volume measurements were extracted. Finally, latencies of recorded VEPs were estimated. Our results show that in non-optic neuritis progressive MS patients there is a relationship between the VEP latency and both retinal damage and OR lesion load. In addition, we find that qMRI values, sampled along the OR, are also correlated with VEP latency. Finally, we show that combining these parameters using PCA we can explain more than 40% of the inter-subject variance in VEP latency. In conclusion, this study contributes to understanding the relationship between the structural properties and conduction in the visual system in disease. We focus on the visual system, where the conduction latencies can be estimated, but the conclusions could be generalized to other brain systems where the white matter structure can be measured. It also highlights the importance of having multiple parameters when assessing the clinical stages of MS patients, which could have major implications for future studies of other white matter diseases.