Exploring the effect of glatiramer acetate on cerebral gray matter atrophy in multiple sclerosis

Published:November 17, 2022DOI:


      • Gray matter volume is a sensitive and clinically relevant measurement of assessing the neuroprotective effect of DMTs in MS.
      • Gray matter atrophy is more predictive of conversion from CIS to MS than white matter disease.
      • Gray matter atrophy is more strongly associated with cognitive impairment and disability than white matter disease.
      • In this pilot study, glatiramer acetate was associated with preservation of cerebral gray matter and whole brain volumes.


      Background and purpose

      Cerebral gray matter (GM) atrophy is a proposed measure of neuroprotection in multiple sclerosis (MS). Glatiramer acetate (GA) limits clinical relapses, MRI lesions, and whole brain atrophy in relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). The effect of GA on GM atrophy remains unclear. We assessed GM atrophy in patients with RRMS starting GA therapy in comparison to a cohort of patients with clinically benign RRMS (BMS).


      We studied 14 patients at GA start [age (mean ± SD) 44.2 ± 7.0 years, disease duration (DD) 7.2 ± 6.4 years, Expanded Disability Status Scale score (EDSS) (median,IQR) 1.0,2.0] and 6 patients with BMS [age 43.0 ± 6.1 years, DD 18.1 ± 8.4 years, EDSS 0.5,1.0]. Brain MRI was obtained at baseline and one year later (both groups) and two years later in all patients in the GA group except one who was lost to follow-up. Semi-automated algorithms assessed cerebral T2 hyperintense lesion volume (T2LV), white matter fraction (WMF), GM fraction (GMF), and brain parenchymal fraction (BPF). The exact Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test compared the groups. The Wilcoxon signed rank test assessed longitudinal changes within groups.


      During the first year, MRI changes did not differ significantly between groups (p > 0.15). Within the BMS group, WMF and BPF decreased during the first year (p = 0.03). Within the GA group, there was no significant change in MRI measures during each annual period (p > 0.05). Over two years, the GA group had a significant increase in T2LV and decrease in WMF (p < 0.05), while GMF and BPF remained stable (p > 0.05). MRI changes in brain volumes (GMF or WMF) in the first year in the GA group were not significantly different from those in the BMS group (p > 0.5).


      In this pilot study with a small sample size, patients with RRMS started on GA did not show significant GM or whole brain atrophy over 2 years, resembling MS patients with a clinically benign disease course.


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