Functional cortical changes in patients with multiple sclerosis and nonspecific findings on conventional magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brain

Maria A. Rocca, Elisabetta Pagani, Angelo Ghezzi, Andrea Falini, Mauro Zaffaroni, Bruno Colombo, Giuseppe Scotti, Giancarlo Comi, Massimo Filippi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) work has suggested that cortical reorganisation might have an adaptive role in limiting the clinical impact of multiple sclerosis (MS) structural damage. In this study, we investigated whether, in patients with MS, the presence and extent of structural damage of the normal-appearing brain tissue are associated with the extent of the movement-associated pattern of cortical activations. Using fMRI and a general search method, we assessed the patterns of brain activations associated with simple motor tasks in 12 right-handed patients with clinically definite MS and nonspecific T2-weighted abnormalities on conventional MRI scans of the brain and compared them with those from 12 sex- and age-matched right- handed healthy controls. Also investigated were the extent to which the fMRI changes correlated with normal-appearing white matter and grey matter (GM) pathology, measured using diffusion tensor MRI. When performing the simple motor task with the dominant hand, MS patients had more significant activations of the ipsilateral supplementary motor area (SMA), the ipsilateral superior frontal sulcus, the contralateral superior temporal gyrus, and the thalamus than controls. On the contrary, healthy subjects showed more significant activations of the medial part of the contralateral parieto-occipital fissure and the ipsilateral primary sensorimotor cortex (SMC) than patients with MS. In patients with MS, the relative activation of the ipsilateral SMA was correlated with the peak height (r = -0.88, P <0.001) and position (r = 0.87, P <0.001) of the GM mean diffusivity histogram. This study shows that cortical reorganisation occurs over a rather distributed sensorimotor network even in patients with MS and nonspecific abnormalities on conventional brain MRI scans. This suggests that, in patients with MS, an increased recruitment of movement-associated cortical network can be elicited by the presence of normal-appearing tissue pathology, which is independent of macroscopic T2-weighted abnormalities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)826-836
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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