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Exercise training effects on memory and hippocampal viscoelasticity in multiple sclerosis: a novel application of magnetic resonance elastography



Cognitive impairment is common and debilitating among persons with multiple sclerosis (MS) and might be managed with exercise training. However, the effects of exercise training on viscoelastic brain properties in this population are unknown. The present pilot study adopted a single-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT) design and is the first to examine the effect of an aerobic exercise training intervention on learning and memory and hippocampal viscoelasticity using magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) in persons with MS.


Eight fully ambulatory females with MS were randomly assigned into exercise training intervention or waitlist control conditions. The intervention condition involved 12 weeks of supervised, progressive treadmill walking exercise training. All participants underwent measures of learning and memory (i.e., California Verbal Learning Test-II; CVLT-II) and further underwent MRE scans for measurement of shear stiffness (μ) and damping ratio (ξ) of the hippocampus before and after the 12-week period.


Overall, there were small-to-moderate intervention effects on CVLT-II performance (d = 0.34) and large intervention effects on hippocampal μ (d = 0.94) and hippocampal ξ (d = −1.20). Change in CVLT-II scores was strongly associated with change in μ (r = 0.93, p < 0.01) and ξ (r = −.96, p < 0.01) of the hippocampus.


This small pilot RCT provides exciting proof-of-concept data supporting progressive treadmill walking exercise training for potentially improving learning and memory and underlying hippocampal viscoelastic properties in persons with MS. This is important given the high prevalence and burden of MS-related memory impairment.

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MRE data acquisition and analysis was partially supported by NMSS grant IL-1503-03395 and NIH/NIBIB grants R01-EB018320 and R01-001981. This research is additionally part of the Blue Waters sustained-petascale computing project, which is supported by the National Science Foundation + University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brian M. Sandroff.

Ethics declarations

We declare that all human and animal studies have been approved by the University of Illinois Institutional Review Board and have therefore been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. We declare that all patients gave informed consent prior to inclusion in this study.

Conflict of interest

We declare that we have no conflict of interest.

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Sandroff, B.M., Johnson, C.L. & Motl, R.W. Exercise training effects on memory and hippocampal viscoelasticity in multiple sclerosis: a novel application of magnetic resonance elastography. Neuroradiology 59, 61–67 (2017).

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  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cognition
  • Exercise
  • MRI
  • Hippocampus