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Tract-specific MRI measures explain learning and recall differences in multiple sclerosis

Winter, Mia, Tallantyre, Emma C. ORCID:, Brice, Thomas A. W., Robertson, Neil P. ORCID:, Jones, Derek K. ORCID: and Chamberland, Maxime ORCID: 2021. Tract-specific MRI measures explain learning and recall differences in multiple sclerosis. Brain Communications 3 (2) , fcab065. 10.1093/braincomms/fcab065

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Cognitive difficulties are common and a key concern for people with multiple sclerosis. Advancing knowledge of the role of white matter pathology in multiple sclerosis-related cognitive impairment is essential as both occur early in the disease with implications for early intervention. Consequently, this cross-sectional study asked whether quantifying the relationships between lesions and specific white matter structures could better explain co-existing cognitive differences than whole brain imaging measures. Forty participants with relapse-onset multiple sclerosis underwent cognitive testing and MRI at 3 Tesla. They were classified as cognitively impaired (n = 24) or unimpaired (n = 16) and differed across verbal fluency, learning, and recall tasks corrected for intelligence and education (corrected p-values=0.007-0.04). The relationships between lesions and white matter were characterised across six measures: conventional voxel-based T2 lesion load, whole brain tractogram load (lesioned volume/whole tractogram volume), whole bundle volume, bundle load (lesioned volume/whole bundle volume), tractometry (diffusion-tensor and high angular resolution diffusion measures sampled from all bundle streamlines), and lesionometry (diffusion measures sampled from streamlines traversing lesions only). The tract-specific measures were extracted from corpus callosum segments (genu and isthmus), striato-prefrontal and -parietal pathways, and the superior longitudinal fasciculi (sections I, II, and III). White matter measure-task associations demonstrating at least moderate evidence against the null hypothesis (Bayes Factor threshold <0.2) were examined using independent t-tests and covariate analyses (significance level p<0.05). Tract-specific measures were significant predictors (all p-values <0.05) of task-specific clinical scores and diminished the significant effect of group as a categorical predictor in Story Recall (isthmus bundle load), Figure Recall (right striato-parietal lesionometry), and Design Learning (left superior longitudinal fasciculus III volume). Lesion load explained the difference in List Learning, whereas Letter Fluency was not associated with any of the imaging measures. Overall, tract-specific measures outperformed the global lesion and tractogram load measures. Variation in regional lesion burden translated to group differences in tract-specific measures, which in turn, attenuated differences in individual cognitive tasks. The structural differences converged in temporo-parietal regions with particular influence on tasks requiring visuospatial-constructional processing. We highlight that measures quantifying the relationships between tract-specific structure and multiple sclerosis lesions uncovered associations with cognition masked by overall tract volumes and global lesion and tractogram loads. These tract-specific white matter quantifications show promise for elucidating the relationships between neuropathology and cognition in multiple sclerosis.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISSN: 2632-1297
Funders: Wellcome Trust
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 2 March 2021
Date of Acceptance: 1 March 2021
Last Modified: 07 May 2023 08:21

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