• Multiple sclerosis;
  • MRI;
  • spinal cord;
  • atrophy;
  • normalization



Spinal cord (SC) pathology is common in multiple sclerosis (MS), and measures of SC-atrophy are increasingly utilized. Normalization reduces biological variation of structural measurements unrelated to disease, but optimal parameters for SC volume (SCV)-normalization remain unclear. Using a variety of normalization factors and clinical measures, we assessed the effect of SCV normalization on detecting group differences and clarifying clinical–radiological correlations in MS.


3T cervical SC-MRI was performed in 133 MS cases and 11 healthy controls (HC). Clinical assessment included expanded disability status scale (EDSS), MS functional composite (MSFC), quantitative hip-flexion strength (“strength”), and vibration sensation threshold (“vibration”). SCV between C3 and C4 was measured and normalized individually by subject height, SC-length, and intracranial volume (ICV).


There were group differences in raw-SCV and after normalization by height and length (MS vs. HC; progressive vs. relapsing MS-subtypes, P < .05). There were correlations between clinical measures and raw-SCV (EDSS:r = –.20; MSFC:r = .16; strength:r = .35; vibration:r = –.19). Correlations consistently strengthened with normalization by length (EDSS:r = –.43; MSFC:r = .33; strength:r = .38; vibration:r = –.40), and height (EDSS:r = –.26; MSFC:r = .28; strength:r = .22; vibration:r = –.29), but diminished with normalization by ICV (EDSS:r = –.23; MSFC:r = –.10; strength:r = .23; vibration:r = –.35). In relapsing MS, normalization by length allowed statistical detection of correlations that were not apparent with raw-SCV.


SCV-normalization by length improves the ability to detect group differences, strengthens clinical–radiological correlations, and is particularly relevant in settings of subtle disease-related SC-atrophy in MS. SCV-normalization by length may enhance the clinical utility of measures of SC-atrophy.