Physical activity may contribute to brain health in multiple sclerosis: An MR volumetric and spectroscopy study

Raoof Negaresh, Reza Gharakhanlou, Mohammad Ali Sahraian, Maryam Abolhasani, Robert W Motl, Philipp Zimmer
Journal of Neuroimaging: Official Journal of the American Society of Neuroimaging 2021 May 6

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Physical activity may represent a disease-modifying therapy in persons with multiple sclerosis (pwMS). To date, there is limited research regarding mechanisms based on brain imaging for understanding the beneficial effects of physical activity in pwMS. This study examined the relationship between physical activity levels and thalamic and hippocampal volumes and brain metabolism in pwMS.

METHODS: The sample of 52 pwMS (37.3 ± 9.6 years of age; 35 females, 17 males) underwent a combination of volumetric magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Current and lifetime physical activity were assessed using actigraphy and the adapted version of the Historical Activity Questionnaire, respectively.

RESULTS: Positive associations were observed between both actigraphy and self-reported levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and thalamic and hippocampal volumes. Regarding brain metabolism, actigraphy and self-reported levels of MVPA were positively associated with higher hippocampal and thalamic levels of N-acetylaspartate/creatine ratio (NAA/Cr: marker of neural integrity and cell energy state).

CONCLUSIONS: This study provides novel evidence for a positive association between physical activity and thalamic and hippocampal volume and metabolism in pwMS. These findings support the hypothesis that physical activity, particularly MVPA, may serve as a disease-modifying treatment by improving brain health in pwMS.

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