Background: The relationship of gray and white matter atrophy in multiple sclerosis (MS) to neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric impairment has not been examined.
Methods: In 40 patients with MS and 15 age-/sex-matched normal controls, the authors used SPM99 to obtain whole brain normalized volumes of gray and white matter, as well as measured conventional lesion burden (total T1 hypointense and FLAIR hyperintense lesion volume). The whole brain segmentation was corrected for misclassification related to MS brain lesions. To compare the effects of gray matter, white matter, and lesion volumes with respect to brain-behavior relationships, the MS group (disease duration = 11.2 +/- 8.8 years; EDSS score = 3.3 +/- 1.9) underwent neuropsychological assessment, and was compared to a separate, larger group of age-/sex-matched normal controls (n = 83).
Results: The MS group had smaller gray (p = 0.009) and white matter volume (p = 0.018), impaired cognitive performance (verbal memory, visual memory, processing speed, and working memory) (all p < 0.0001), and greater neuropsychiatric symptoms (depression, p < 0.0001; dysphoria, p < 0.0001; irritability, p < 0.0001; anxiety, p < 0.0001; euphoria, p = 0.006; agitation, p = 0.02; apathy, p = 0.02; and disinhibition, p = 0.11) vs controls. Hierarchical stepwise regression analysis revealed that whole gray and white matter volumes accounted for greater variance than lesion burden in explaining cognitive performance and neuropsychiatric symptoms. White matter volume was the best predictor of mental processing speed and working memory, whereas gray matter volume predicted verbal memory, euphoria, and disinhibition.
Conclusion: Both gray and white brain matter atrophy contribute to neuropsychological deficits in multiple sclerosis.