Tilsley P, Strohmeyer IA, Heinrich I, Rosenthal F, Patra S, Schulz KH, Rosenkranz SC, Ramien C, Pöttgen J, Heesen C, Has AC, Gold SM, Stellmann JP.Background: Neurodegeneration leads to continuous accumulation of disability in progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Exercise is considered to counteract disease progression, but little is known on the interaction between fitness, brain networks and disability in MS. Objective: The aim of this study to explore functional and structural brain connectivity and the interaction between fitness and disability based on motor and cognitive functional outcomes in a secondary analysis of a randomised, 3-month, waiting group controlled arm ergometry intervention in progressive MS. Methods: We modelled individual structural and functional brain networks based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We used linear mixed effect models to compare changes in brain networks between the groups and explore the association between fitness, brain connectivity and functional outcomes in the entire cohort. Results: We recruited 34 persons with advanced progressive MS (pwMS, mean age 53 years, females 71%, mean disease duration 17 years and an average walking restriction of < 100 m without aid). Functional connectivity increased in highly connected brain regions of the exercise group (p = 0.017), but no structural changes (p = 0.817) were observed. Motor and cognitive task performance correlated positively with nodal structural connectivity but not nodal functional connectivity. We also found that the correlation between fitness and functional outcomes was stronger with lower connectivity. Conclusions: Functional reorganisation seems to be an early indicator of exercise effects on brain networks. Fitness moderates the relationship between network disruption and both motor and cognitive outcomes, with growing importance in more disrupted brain networks. These findings underline the need and opportunities associated with exercise in advanced MS.
J Neurol. 2023 JOct;270(10):4876-4888.
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