Associations between cognitive and clinical disability across MS subtypes: The role of the underlying brain damage

Larissa Carla de Paula Gois, Luciana Ramalho Pimentel-Silva, Benito Pereira Damasceno, Alfredo Damasceno
Multiple Sclerosis and related Disorders 2020 December 19, 48: 102701

BACKGROUND: Cognitive impairment (CI) is present in all stages and subtypes of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the majority of studies examined relapsing-remitting (RRMS) patients, and did not address cognitive phenotyping. Is still not clear whether patients with progressive MS (PMS) have a distinct pattern of CI compared to RRMS. In addition, there is conflicting data regarding the correlation between clinical and cognitive disability.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the differences of CI between PMS and RRMS patients, evaluating cognitive phenotypes. We also aimed to analyze the association between physical and cognitive disability with MRI measures of grey-matter atrophy and lesion burden.

METHODS: Thirty patients with PMS and twenty-four with RRMS underwent neurological, neuropsychological (BRB-N, Boston Naming, and Tower of London), and MRI assessments (3T). Brain volume evaluations were performed using FreeSurfer. Principal Components Analysis on neuropsychological yielded six principal cognitive domains. Cognitive deficits were classified according to three categories: no CI, impairment in isolated cognitive domain, or impairment in combined domains.

RESULTS: In the overall sample, the most frequently impaired cognitive domains were information processing speed (IPS) and visual memory. PMS patients had a higher prevalence of verbal memory and verbal fluency deficits, and more frequent impairment in combined cognitive domains compared to RRMS individuals. After multivariable regression analysis with clinical variables, EDSS was associated with most cognitive domains. Nevertheless, after including T1-lesion volume in the model, it was the most consistent predictor of cognitive performance. To further analyze the interaction between EDSS and T1-lesions, we performed GLM analysis with EDSS and T1-hypointense lesion volume as covariates, and T1-lesion volume adjusted better the model for verbal memory (p = 0.013), IPS (p = 0.021) and total number of impaired cognitive domains (p = 0.021).

CONCLUSIONS: RRMS and PMS patients tend to have a similar neuropsychological profile in general, but the extent of CI was greater in PMS patients. Worse cognitive performance was associated with increased physical disability, but this correlation was no longer significant after controlling for T1-lesion volume, suggesting that the underlying MS pathology might be involved in this relationship. Thalamic and T1-lesion volumes were the most consistent MRI predictors associated with cognitive disability.

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