Original article| Volume 45, 102351, October 2020

The impact of deep grey matter volume on cognition in multiple sclerosis



      Cognitive dysfunctions are very frequent in people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Several studies have previously indicated grey matter (GM) atrophy as useful predictor of patients’ cognitive impairment. However, considerable uncertainty exists about the possible impact of deep grey matter volumes on cognition. This study aimed to evaluate the relationship of the subcortical (sc) GM volumes with the presence and severity of global and selective cognitive impairment in MS.


      A group of MS patients with relapsing remitting course were enrolled. Patients underwent a neuropsychological evaluation by using the Brief Repeatable Battery of Neuropsychological Tests (BRBN) and the Delis–Kaplan Executive Function System Sorting Test (D-KEFST); z scores were estimated and items with z score below 2 standard deviation were considered failed. Thus, brain MRIs images were acquired and measurements of whole brain (WB), white matter (WM), and cortical grey matter (GM) were obtained by SIENAX. After FIRST tool segmentation, volumes of subcortical GM structures were also estimated.


      The sample included 50 MS patients, of which 16/50 (32%) subjects were cognitively impaired. Multiple regression analyses found a significant association of severity of cognitive impairment, defined as number of failed neuropsychological tests, with lower volumes of cortex (p=0.003), thalamus (p=0.009), caudate (p=0.011), putamen (p=0.020), pallidus (p=0.012) and hippocampus (p=0.045), independently from other MS features. In addition, an association between accumbens volume and D-KEFS ST FSC and D-KEFS ST FSD z scores was observed (p<0.03).


      Our results indicated that volumes of several scGM structures, and in particular of thalamus, contribute to determine cognitive dysfunctions in MS, mainly influencing the executive functioning. Further investigations in larger MS cohorts with cognitive impairment are necessary to better understand the structural brain damage underlying this “invisible disability”.


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