A multimodal MRI approach to identify and characterize microstructural brain changes in neuropsychiatric systemic lupus erythematosus

Ece Ercan, Carson Ingo, Oranan Tritanon, Cesar Magro-Checa, Alex Smith, Seth Smith, Tom Huizinga, Mark A. Van Buchem, Itamar Ronen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease with multi-organ involvement and results in neurological and psychiatric (NP) symptoms in up to 40% of the patients. To date, the diagnosis of neuropsychiatric systemic lupus erythematosus (NPSLE) poses a challenge due to the lack of neuroradiological gold standards. In this study, we aimed to better localize and characterize normal appearing white matter (NAWM) changes in NPSLE by combining data from two quantitative MRI techniques, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and magnetization transfer imaging (MTI). 9 active NPSLE patients (37 ± 13 years, all females), 9 SLE patients without NP symptoms (44 ± 11 years, all females), and 14 healthy controls (HC) (40 ± 9 years, all females) were included in the study. MTI, DTI and fluid attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) images were collected from all subjects on a 3 T MRI scanner. Magnetization transfer ratio (MTR), mean diffusivity (MD), fractional anisotropy (FA), radial diffusivity (RD), axial diffusivity (AD) maps and white matter lesion maps based on the FLAIR images were created for each subject. MTR and DTI data were then co-analyzed using tract-based spatial statistics and a cumulative lesion map to exclude lesions. Significantly lower MTR and FA and significantly higher AD, RD and MD were found in NPSLE compared to HC in NAWM regions. The differences in DTI measures and in MTR, however, were only moderately co-localized. Additionally, significant differences in DTI measures, but not in MTR, were found between NPSLE and SLE patients, suggesting that the underlying microstructural changes detected by MD are linked to the onset of NPSLE. The co-analysis of the anatomical distribution of MTI and DTI measures can potentially improve the diagnosis of NPSLE and contribute to the understanding of the underlying microstructural damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-344
Number of pages8
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - Jun 8 2015


  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Magnetization transfer imaging
  • Neuropsychiatric systemic lupus
  • Normal appearing white matter
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • erythematosus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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