Progressive motor impairment from “critical” demyelinating lesions of the cervicomedullary junction

Caitlin S. Jackson-Tarlton, Eoin P. Flanagan, Steven Anthony Messina, Benan Barakat, Rowaid Ahmad, Orhun H. Kantarci, Brian G. Weinshenker, B. Mark Keegan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Progressive motor impairment anatomically associated with a “critical” lesion has been described in primary demyelinating disease. Most “critical” lesions occur within the spinal cord. Objective: To describe the clinical and radiological features of “critical” lesions of the cervicomedullary junction (CMJ). Methods: Observational study on people presenting with a CMJ lesion associated with primary demyelinating disease-related progressive motor impairment. Clinical data were extracted by chart review. Brain and spinal cord magnetic resonance images were reviewed to characterize the CMJ lesion and determine additional demyelination burden. Results: Forty-one people were included: 29 (71%) had progression from onset and 12 (29%) had a relapse onset (secondary progressive) course. Most had progressive hemiparesis (21 (51%)) or progressive quadriparesis (15 (37%)) with a median Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) of 5.5 (2.0–8.5) at last follow-up. No “critical” CMJ lesion enhanced; most were bilateral (25 (61%)). Brain magnetic resonance images were otherwise normal in 16 (39%) or with a restricted demyelination burden in 15 (37%). Cervical and thoracic cord MRIs were without additional lesions in 25 (61%) and 22/37 (59%), respectively. Conclusion: CMJ “critical” lesions can correlate with progressive motor impairment even with few or no additional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lesions. Lesion location is an important determinant of progressive motor impairment in demyelinating disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-80
Number of pages7
JournalMultiple Sclerosis Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • Multiple sclerosis
  • cervicomedullary junction
  • demyelinating disease
  • disability
  • motor impairment
  • progressive multiple sclerosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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