Neuroimaging of CNS White Matter


Group leader

Maria Assunta Rocca


The main research interest of the Neuroimaging of CNS White Matter Unit is multiple sclerosis (MS) and white matter (WM) disorders, studied through the lens of neuroimaging. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis, improving the understanding of the mechanisms associated with the development of irreversible clinical disability and cognitive dysfunction, identifying early prognostic factors of long-term unfavourable clinical outcome, measuring in-vivo functional and structural plasticity processes associated with recovery of function, which may become the target of tailored treatments aimed at promoting restoration and/or preservation of function, are the main lines of the research.

Research activity

A unique and increasingly growing collection of structural and functional MRI samples from several CNS WM diseases of adult and pediatric patients is the target of investigation of the Unit, with the following goals:
  • To combine multiparametric MRI techniques to define the anatomical and functional substrates of motor and cognitive dysfunction in pediatric and adult MS patients to track their evolution over time and to identify clinical and MRI predictors of long term disease worsening;
  • To disentangle the role of gray matter (GM) damage (lesions, microscopic abnormalities, tissue loss) and of damage of selected GM structures (e.g., hippocampus, thalamus, etc) on MS clinical manifestations and progression;
  • To use structural and functional MRI techniques to identify the brain networks related to successful outcome in MS patients treated with different motor or cognitive rehabilitation strategies (e.g, action observation therapy, aerobic training);
  • To analyze the morphological and functional changes associated with motor and cognitive learning in healthy subjects, in order to develop paradigms tailored for pathologic processes;
  • To build a full-automatic or semiautomatic analysis framework for clinical use for the quantification of lesions and atrophy of the whole brain and the GM;
  • To develop novel biomarkers of spinal cord damage in MS, capable to monitor and predict evolution in MS, which could also be used in clinical trials as an outcome for treatment monitoring;
  • To identify structural and functional MR markers of white matter diseases, including migraine, cluster headache, NMOSD, LHON, NPSLE, and primary CNS vasculitidis and to develop classification algorithms based on imaging features, to be applied in the diagnostic work-up of these conditions.