Diagnostic contribution of magnetic resonance imaging in an atypical presentation of motor neuron disease
Motor neuron disease (MND) is a neurodegenerative disease determining progressive and relentless motor deterioration involving both upper and lower motor neurons (UMN and LMN); several variants at onset are described. Here we describe a case of MND presenting as pure spastic monoparesis in which magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) gave a substantial contribution in confirming the diagnosis and assessing the severity of UMN involvement. An isolated pyramidal syndrome, with complete absence of LMN signs, is a rare phenotype in the context of MND (less than 4% of total cases), especially if restricted to only one limb. Several other elements made this case an unusual presentation of MND: the late age of onset (8th decade), the subacute evolution of symptoms (raising the suspicion of an ischemic or inflammatory, rather than degenerative, etiology), the patient’s past medical history (achalasia, erythema nodosum), the increase of inflammatory indices. Conventional MRI showed no focal lesions that could explain the clinical features; therefore, we used advanced MR sequences. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) evaluation evidenced bilateral impairment of corticospinal tract (CST) diffusion metrics, with clear right-left asymmetry, pointing to a neurodegenerative etiology, which clinically appeared less likely at that time. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) showed a significant reduction of NAA/Cho + Cr ratio in the motor cortex (MC), further supporting the hypothesis of UMN degeneration. In conclusion, in this particular case of MND, whose nosographic framing has not been fully defined, advanced MRI techniques with DTI and MRS proved to be of great usefulness in confirming a diffuse UMN involvement, possibly at a more advanced stage than its clinical expression.