Cognitive impairment is increasingly recognized to be a core feature of multiple sclerosis (MS), with important implications for the everyday life of individuals with MS and for disease management. Unfortunately, the exact mechanisms that underlie this cognitive impairment are poorly understood and there are no effective therapeutic options for this aspect of the disease. During MS, focal brain inflammatory lesions, together with pathological changes of both CNS grey matter and normal-appearing white matter, can interfere with cognitive functions. Moreover, inflammation may alter the crosstalk between the immune and the nervous systems, modulating the induction of synaptic plasticity and neurotransmission. In this Review, we examine the CNS structures and cognitive domains that are affected by the disease, with a specific focus on hippocampal involvement in MS and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, an experimental model of MS. We also discuss the hypothesis that, during MS, immune-mediated alterations of synapses’ ability to express long-term plastic changes may contribute to the pathogenesis of cognitive impairment by interfering with the dynamics of neuronal networks.
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