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Axonal injury occurs even in the earliest stages of multiple sclerosis. Magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) measurements of brain N:-acetylaspartate (NAA), a marker of axonal integrity, show that this axonal injury can occur even in the absence of clinically evident functional impairments. To test whether cortical adaptive responses contribute to the maintenance of normal motor function in patients with multiple sclerosis, we performed MRSI and functional MRI (fMRI) examinations of nine multiple sclerosis patients who had unimpaired hand function. We found that activation of the ipsilateral sensorimotor cortex with simple hand movements was increased by a mean of fivefold relative to normal controls (n = 8) and that the extent of this increase was strongly correlated (sigma = -0.93, P = 0.001) with decreases in brain NAA. These results suggest that compensatory cortical adaptive responses may help to account for the limited relationship between conventional MRI measures of lesion burden and clinical measures of disability, and that therapies directed towards promoting cortical reorganization in response to brain injury could enhance recovery from relapses of multiple sclerosis.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date



123 ( Pt 11)


2314 - 2320


Aspartic Acid, Axons, Fingers, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Motor Cortex, Movement, Multiple Sclerosis, Nerve Degeneration, Nerve Fibers, Myelinated, Neuronal Plasticity, Recovery of Function