There is now overwhelming evidence supporting the following statements: MS causes widespread tissue damage in the normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) of the brain and spinal cord, whose extent and severity is more strictly associated to the clinical manifestations of the disease than the extent of focal pathology. Discrete, macroscopic lesions are just the tip of the iceberg of MS pathology. Grey matter (GM) damage is a consistent feature of all MS phenotypes, which is progressive from the start of the relapsing-remitting phase of the disease. As is the case for WM, GM damage is also a mixture of focal lesions and diffuse pathology.
The neurodegenerative component of the disease is not a late phenomenon and it is not completely driven by inflammatory demyelination. In fact, neurodegeneration occurs very early in the course of MS and the correlation between MRI measures of inflammation and neurodegeneration is weak in all disease phases.
All of this calls for the concept of MS as a focal, inflammatory demyelinating, WM disease to be reexamined and to start viewing MS as a diffuse CNS disease with an important neurodegenerative component. This is central for identifying novel and effective treatment strategies.
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