Cognitive speed and white matter integrity in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis

Riccardo Manca, Maria R. Stabile, Francesca Bevilacqua, Cristina Cadorin, Francesco Piccione, Basil Sharrack, Annalena Venneri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Processing speed (PS) deficits have been consistently observed in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS). However, the underlying neural correlates have not been clarified yet. The present study aimed to investigate the relationship between macrostructural and microstructural white matter (WM) integrity and performance on different cognitive measures with prominent PS load. Methods: Thirty-one patients with SPMS were recruited and underwent neurological, neuropsychological, and MRI assessments. The associations between a composite index of PS abilities and scores on various tests with prominent PS load and T1-weighted and diffusion tensor image parameters were tested. Analyses were carried out using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS). Results: VBM results showed that only the semantic fluency task correlated with grey matter (GM) volume in a range of cortical and subcortical areas bilaterally as well as the corpus callosum and the superior longitudinal fasciculus. TBSS analysis revealed consistent results across all the cognitive measures investigated, showing a prominent role of commissural and frontal associative WM tracts in supporting PS-demanding cognitive operations. Conclusions: In patients with SPMS, PS abilities are mainly dependent on the degree of both macrostructural and microstructural WM integrity. Preservation of associative WM tracts that support information integration seems crucial to sustain performance in tasks requiring fast cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-207
Number of pages10
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2019


  • Cognition
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • MRI
  • Processing speed
  • Voxel based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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