, Volume 225, Issue 3, pp 399-407
Date: 04 Jan 2013

Analysis of “task-positive” and “task-negative” functional networks during the performance of the Symbol Digit Modalities Test in patients at presentation with clinically isolated syndrome suggestive of multiple sclerosis

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An abnormal pattern of brain activations has been shown in patients with multiple sclerosis during the performance of several cognitive tasks. The aim of this study is to investigate abnormalities of the patterns of activation/deactivation in the functional networks related to “task-positive” and “task-negative” events during the execution of the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) in patients with clinically isolated syndromes (CIS) and preserved cognitive abilities. Eighteen CIS patients within 3 months from their first clinical attack and 15 healthy controls (HC) underwent neuropsychological assessment and performed an adapted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) version of the SDMT. “Task-positive” responses to task execution and “task-negative” activity of the default mode network were compared between groups. A regression analysis was performed to investigate the correlation between fMRI results and T2 lesion load (T2 LL) and brain atrophy. Neuropsychological performance did not differ between groups. Compared to HC, CIS patients exhibited an enhanced deactivation of the “task-negative” network at the level of the posterior cingulate cortex, whereas no differences between groups were found when the patterns of “task-positive” events were compared. A regression analysis detected a correlation (p < 0.001,r ranging from 0.62 to 0.73) between T2 LL and “task-positive” activations of areas that are part of the attention network, comprising the anterior cingulate gyrus, left prefrontal gyrus and inferior parietal lobe. No correlation was found between patterns of functional modifications and brain atrophy. CIS patients experience an enhanced pattern of brain deactivations during cognitive performances, which might contribute to their normal neuropsychological status.