The objective of this pilot study was to compare cerebral gray matter (GM) atrophy over 1 year in patients starting dimethyl fumarate (DMF) for multiple sclerosis (MS) to that of patients on no disease-modifying treatment (noDMT). DMF is an established therapy for relapsing–remitting (RR) MS.
We retrospectively analyzed 20 patients with RRMS at the start of DMF [age (mean ± SD) 46.1 ± 10.2 years, Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score 1.1 ± 1.2, timed 25-foot walk (T25FW) 4.6 ± 0.8 s] and eight patients on noDMT (age 42.5 ± 6.6 years, EDSS 1.7 ± 1.1, T25FW 4.4 ± 0.6 s). Baseline and 1-year 3D T1-weighted 3T MRI was processed with automated pipelines (SIENA, FSL-FIRST) to assess percentage whole brain volume change (PBVC) and deep GM (DGM) atrophy. Group differences were assessed by analysis of covariance, with time between MRI scans as a covariate.
Over 1 year, the DMF group showed a lower rate of whole brain atrophy than the noDMT group (PBVC: −0.37 ± 0.49% vs. −1.04 ± 0.67%, p = 0.005). The DMF group also had less change in putamen volume (−0.06 ± 0.22 vs. −0.32 ± 0.28 ml, p = 0.02). There were no significant on-study differences between groups in caudate, globus pallidus, thalamus, total DGM volume, T2 lesion volume, EDSS, or T25FW (all p > 0.20).
These results suggest a treatment effect of DMF on GM atrophy appearing at 1 year after starting therapy. However, due to the retrospective study design and sample size, these findings should be considered preliminary, and require confirmation in future investigations.