White matter tracts that overlap with the thalamus and the putamen are protected against multiple sclerosis pathology

M. A. Clarke, D. Archer, K. Yoon, I. Oguz, S. A. Smith, J. Xu, G. Cutter, F. Bagnato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The thalamus and the putamen are highly connected hubs implicated in multiple sclerosis (MS) pathology. It remains unclear if white matter (WM) tracts, which pass through them, have a different susceptibility to MS pathology, and if so, if their impact on disability predominates over that exerted by disease in other WM tracts. We hypothesized that WM tracts connected to and passing through these hubs (subsequently termed hub+ tracts) would be more susceptible to MS-related pathology than tracts that do not pass through them (hub- tracts) due to retrograde and anterograde distant degeneration. Thus, we compared the lesion load and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) derived metrics between hub+ and hub- tracts and assessed the relationship between these MRI metrics and those of physical impairment. Methods: Eighteen patients (mean age of 45.5 years, 12 females) had 3 Tesla MRI consisting of T1-weighted and T2-weighted Fluid Attenuated Inversion recovery (FLAIR), and NODDI from which the orientation dispersion index (ODI), neurite density index (NDI), and isotropic volume fraction (IVF) were derived. Forty-nine WM tracts, i.e., 12 hub+ and 37 hub- tracts, were segmented out. Exploratory analyses of the differences in lesion burden, whole tract and normal appearing WM (NAWM) NODDI metrics were carried out between the two types of tracts using a Mann-Whitney U test. Correlations with physical impairment, assessed using the expanded disability status scale (EDSS) and timed 25-foot walk (T25FW)were assessed using Spearman correlation analyses. Results: Hub- tracts had larger T1- (p<0.001) and T2-lesion (p<0.001) volumes; lower ODI (p<0.001), NDI (p<0.001) and higher IVF (p = 0.020) in comparison to hub+ tracts. Measures of tissue injury in hub+ tracts correlated with those of clinical disability, though less strongly than in hub- tracts. Conclusions: Contrary to our hypothesis, our exploratory pilot study results suggest that WM tracts that overlap with the thalamus and the putamen have a lower degree of lesional and non-lesional tissue injury, suggesting a protective role of the hubs against MS pathology or a higher degree of vulnerability of those not passing through hub stations. We also show a weaker association between disability impairment and hub+ pathology, compared to that in hub- tracts. Our findings point to a potential role of disease location in relation to hubs as guidance for treatment personalization in MS

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103430
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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