According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, an estimated 2.3 million individuals are living with multiple sclerosis (MS) worldwide. It is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
While symptoms vary widely, including fatigue, weakness and vision problems, approximately half of all individuals with MS experience changes in cognition such as impaired concentration, attention, memory, and judgment.
Investigating the Underpinnings of Cognitive Changes
Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth from the lab of Bart Rypma, Ph.D., in collaboration with with Elliot Frohman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program and Clinical Center at UT Southwestern, are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the underlying brain basis for these changes that often create negative effects on daily functioning.
In 2015, their finding published in published in Neuropsychology reveal that decreased connectivity between network-specific brain regions are to blame for slowed cognitive speed, the central deficit common to the various cognitive changes associated with MS.
“Our study is the first to really zero in on the physiology of cognitive speed, the central cognitive deficit in MS,” explained Center for BrainHealth principal investigator Bart Rypma, Ph.D., who also holds the Meadows Foundation Chair at UT Dallas. “While white matter is essential to efficient network communication, white matter degradation is symptomatic of MS. This study really highlights how tightly coupled connectivity is to performance and illuminates the larger, emerging picture of white matter’s importance in human cognitive performance.”
Rypma and his team are currently conducting research to further explore the physiology of white matter to better understand cognitive speed reductions not only in MS, but also in healthy aging individuals.