Functional connectivity changes and their relationship with clinical disability and white matter integrity in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis

Emilia Sbardella, F. Tona, N. Petsas, N. Upadhyay, M. C. Piattella, N. Filippini, L. Prosperini, C. Pozzilli, P. Pantano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and objective: To define the pathological substrate underlying disability in multiple sclerosis by evaluating the relationship of resting-state functional connectivity with microstructural brain damage, as assessed by diffusion tensor imaging, and clinical impairments. Methods: Thirty relapsing-remitting patients and 24 controls underwent 3T-MRI; motor abilities were evaluated by using measures of walking speed, hand dexterity and balance capability, while information processing speed was evaluated by a paced auditory serial addiction task. Independent component analysis and tract-based spatial statistics were applied to RS-fMRI and diffusion tensor imaging data using FSL software. Group differences, after dual regression, and clinical correlations were modelled with GeneralLinear-Model and corrected for multiple comparisons. Results: Patients showed decreased functional connectivity in 5 of 11 resting-state-networks (cerebellar, executive-control, medial-visual, basal ganglia and sensorimotor), changes in inter-network correlations and widespread white matter microstructural damage. In multiple sclerosis, corpus callosum microstructural damage positively correlated with functional connectivity in cerebellar and auditory networks. Moreover, functional connectivity within the medial-visual network inversely correlated with information processing speed. White matter widespread microstructural damage inversely correlated with both the paced auditory serial addiction task and hand dexterity. Conclusions: Despite the within-network functional connectivity decrease and the widespread microstructural damage, the inter-network functional connectivity changes suggest a global brain functional rearrangement in multiple sclerosis. The correlation between functional connectivity alterations and callosal damage uncovers a link between functional and structural connectivity. Finally, functional connectivity abnormalities affect information processing speed rather than motor abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1681-1692
Number of pages12
JournalMultiple Sclerosis Journal
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Disability
  • Functional connectivity
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Resting state
  • Structural connectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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