Sensitive and specific in vivo measures of axonal damage, an important determinant of clinical status in multiple sclerosis (MS), might greatly benefit prognostication and therapy assessment. Diffusion tensor spectroscopy (DTS) combines features of diffusion tensor imaging and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, allowing measurement of the diffusion properties of intracellular, cell-type-specific metabolites. As such, it maybe sensitive to disruption of tissue microstructure within neurons. In this cross-sectional pilot study, diffusion of the neuronal metabolite N-acetylaspartate (NAA) was measured in the human normal-appearing corpus callosum on a 7 tesla MRI scanner, comparing 15 MS patients and 14 healthy controls. We found that NAA parallel diffusivity is lower in MS (p = 0.030) and inversely correlated with both water parallel diffusivity (p = 0.020) and clinical severity (p = 0.015). Interpreted in the context of previous experiments, our findings provide preliminary evidence that DTS can distinguish axonopathy from other processes such as inflammation, edema, demyelination, and gliosis. By detecting reduced diffusion of NAA parallel to axons in white matter, DTS may thus be capable of distinguishing axonal disruption in MS in the setting of increased parallel diffusion of water, which is commonly observed in MS but pathologically nonspecific.
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