PLoS One 2014 9;9(4):e93715. Epub 2014 Apr 9.
Department of Neurology, Medical University of Graz, Graz, Austria; Division of Neuroradiology, Department of Radiology, Medical University of Graz, Graz, Austria.
Background: Extrapolations from previous cross-sectional fMRI studies suggest cerebral functional changes with progression of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), but longitudinal studies are scarce. We assessed brain activation changes over time in MS patients using a cognitive fMRI paradigm and examined correlations with clinical and cognitive status and brain morphology.
Methods: 13 MS patients and 15 healthy controls (HC) underwent MRI including fMRI (go/no-go task), neurological and neuropsychological exams at baseline (BL) and follow-up (FU; minimum 12, median 20 months). We assessed estimates of and changes in fMRI activation, total brain and subcortical grey matter volumes, cortical thickness, and T2-lesion load. Bland-Altman (BA) plots served to assess fMRI signal variability.
Results: Cognitive and disability levels remained largely stable in the patients. With the fMRI task, both at BL and FU, patients compared to HC showed increased activation in the insular cortex, precuneus, cerebellum, posterior cingulate cortex, and occipital cortex. At BL, patients vs. HC also had lower caudate nucleus, thalamus and putamen volumes. Over time, patients (but not HC) demonstrated fMRI activity increments in the left inferior parietal lobule. These correlated with worse single-digit-modality test (SDMT) performance. BA-plots attested to reproducibility of the fMRI task. In the patients, the right caudate nucleus decreased in volume which again correlated with worsening SDMT performance.
Conclusions: Given preserved cognitive performance, the increased activation at BL in the patients may be viewed as largely adaptive. In contrast, the negative correlation with SDMT performance suggests increasing parietal activation over time to be maladaptive. Several areas with purported relevance for cognition showed decreased volumes at BL and right caudate nucleus volume decline correlated with decreasing SDMT performance. This highlights the dynamics of functional changes and the strategic importance of specific brain areas for cognitive processes in MS.