Has Silemek AC, Fischer L, Pöttgen J, Penner IK, Engel AK, Heesen C, Gold SM, Stellmann JP.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most common chronic inflammatory and neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system (CNS), which can lead to severe cognitive impairment over time. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is currently the best available biomarker to track MS pathophysiology in vivo and examine the link to clinical disability. However, conventional MRI metrics have limited sensitivity and specificity to detect direct associations between symptoms and their underlying CNS substrates. In this study, we aimed to investigate structural and resting state functional connectomes and subnetworks associated with neuropsychological (NP) performance using a graph theoretical approach. A comprehensive NP test battery was administered in a sample of patients with relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) and mild disability [n = 33, F/M = 20/13, age = 40.9 ± 9.7, median [Expanded Disability Status Scale] (EDSS) = 2, range =0-4] and compared to healthy controls (HC) [n = 29, F/M = 19/10, age = 41.0 ± 8.5] closely matched for age, sex, and level of education. The NP battery comprised the most relevant domains of cognitive dysfunction in MS including attention, processing speed, verbal and spatial learning and memory, and executive function. While standard MRI metrics showed good correlations with TAP Alertness test, disease duration and neurological exams, structural networks showed closer associations with 9-hole peg test and cognitive performances. Decreased graph strength was associated with two out of the 5 NP tests in the spatial learning and memory domain specified by BVMT [Sum 1-3] and BVMT [Recall], and with also SDMT which is one out of the 9 NP tests in the attention/processing speed domain, while no correlation was found between these scores and functional connectivity. Nodal strength was decreased in all subnetworks based on Yeo atlas in patients compared to HC; however, no difference was observed in nodal level of functional connectivity between the groups. The difference in structural and functional nodal connectivity between the groups was also observed in the relationship between structural and functional connectivity within the groups; the relationship between nodal degree and nodal strength was reversed in patients but positive in controls. On a nodal level, structural and functional networks (mainly the default mode network) were correlated with more than one cognitive domain rather than one specific network for each domain within patients. Interestingly, poorer cognitive performance was mostly correlated with increased functional connectivity but decreased structural connectivity in patients. Increased functional connectivity in the default mode network had both positive as well as negative associations with verbal and spatial learning and memory, possibly indicating adaptive and maladaptive mechanisms. In conclusion, our results suggest that cognitive performance, even in patients with RRMS and very mild disability, may reflect a loss of structural connectivity. In contrast, widespread increases in functional connectivity may be the result of maladaptive processes.

Neuroimage Clin. 2020 Jan 12;25:102177

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