Background: As disease progression remains poorly understood in multiple sclerosis (MS), we aim to investigate the sequence in which different disease milestones occur using a novel data-driven approach. Methods: We analysed a cohort of 295 relapse-onset MS patients and 96 healthy controls, and considered 28 features, capturing information on T2-lesion load, regional brain and spinal cord volumes, resting-state functional centrality (“hubness”), microstructural tissue integrity of major white matter (WM) tracts and performance on multiple cognitive tests. We used a discriminative event-based model to estimate the sequence of biomarker abnormality in MS progression in general, as well as specific models for worsening physical disability and cognitive impairment. Results: We demonstrated that grey matter (GM) atrophy of the cerebellum, thalamus, and changes in corticospinal tracts are early events in MS pathology, whereas other WM tracts as well as the cognitive domains of working memory, attention, and executive function are consistently late events. The models for disability and cognition show early functional changes of the default-mode network and earlier changes in spinal cord volume compared to the general MS population. Overall, GM atrophy seems crucial due to its early involvement in the disease course, whereas WM tract integrity appears to be affected relatively late despite the early onset of WM lesions. Conclusion: Data-driven modelling revealed the relative occurrence of both imaging and non-imaging events as MS progresses, providing insights into disease propagation mechanisms, and allowing fine-grained staging of patients for monitoring purposes

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NeuroImage: Clinical
Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam

Dekker, I. (Iris), Schoonheim, M.M. (Menno M.), Venkatraghavan, V., Eijlers, A.J.C. (Anand J.C.), Brouwer, I. (Iman), Bron, E., … Wottschel, V. (Viktor). (2021). The sequence of structural, functional and cognitive changes in multiple sclerosis. NeuroImage: Clinical, 29. doi:10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102550