Silent progression of brain atrophy in aquaporin-4 antibody-positive neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder

Objective

To investigate longitudinal brain atrophy in patients with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

Methods

We investigated the longitudinal brain atrophy rate in patients with aquaporin-4 antibody-positive NMOSD (AQP4+NMOSD) and those with multiple sclerosis (MS) in a retrospective cohort study. Brain volume was calculated with statistical parametric mapping-12.

Results

We enrolled 36 patients with AQP4+NMOSD and 60 with MS. Patients with NMOSD were older and had a higher Kurtzke’s expanded disability status scale score at baseline MRI compared with those with MS. Disease duration, annual relapse rate and intervals from the last attack and from disease-modifying drugs initiation were not significantly different between the two groups. Lower normalised lesion volume and higher normalised white matter volume were found in patients with NMOSD compared with those with MS at baseline MRI. However, the annualised atrophy rate of normalised brain volume was similar between the NMOSD (median 0.47; IQR 0.75; p=0.49) and MS (median 0.46; IQR 0.84) groups. After adjustment of age and the presence of clinical relapse, no differences of the annualised atrophy rate of normalised brain volume also were found for NMOSD and MS. Patients with AQP4+NMOSD with long cord lesion showed higher annualised atrophy rate of normalised grey matter volume compared with those without long cord lesion.

Conclusions

Silent progression of brain atrophy was present in patients with AQP4+NMOSD, as shown in patients with MS, even in the clinically inactive age-matched cases. Subclinical dying back degeneration may explain the brain atrophy in patients with AQP4 +NMOSD.

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