Magnetic resonance imaging was performed on 50 patients with clinically definite or probable multiple sclerosis before and 15 days after starting treatment with intravenous methylprednisolone (0.5 g daily for 5 days). Scans were abnormal in 49 patients. New lesions had appeared on the second scan in nine individuals and in seven a single pre-existing lesion appeared to have become smaller but in no case were lesions seen to disappear. Two patients showed both reduction in the size of an abnormal area and development of a single new lesion indicating that corticosteroids do not appear rapidly to alter the process underlying plaque formation. Measurements of relaxation times were performed in 12 randomly selected patients. All showed elevated values in normal appearing white matter but not cortex before treatment compared with 18 healthy controls. After treatment a significant decrease of T1 and T2 was observed in cortex, and of T1 alone in normal appearing white matter. No significant change could be detected within lesions, a finding attributed to the wide range of relaxation values observed at these sites before treatment. Since brain water content is increased in normal appearing white matter of multiple sclerosis patients, and is significantly reduced by high-dose methylprednisolone, resolution of oedema may contribute to the rapid spontaneous or corticosteroid induced symptomatic recovery that characterises the disease in its early stages.
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