Examination of processing speed deficits in multiple sclerosis using functional magnetic resonance imaging

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2009 May;15(3):383-93. doi: 10.1017/S1355617709090535.


Although it is known that processing speed deficits are one of the primary cognitive impairments in multiple sclerosis (MS), the underlying neural mechanisms responsible for impaired processing speed remain undetermined. Using BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging, the current study compared the brain activity of 16 individuals with MS to 17 healthy controls (HCs) during performance of a processing speed task, a modified version of the Symbol Digit Modalities Task. Although there were no differences in performance accuracy, the MS group was significantly slower than HCs. Although both groups showed similar activation involving the precentral gyrus and occipital cortex, the MS showed significantly less cerebral activity than HCs in bilateral frontal and parietal regions, similar to what has been reported in aging samples during speeded tasks. In the HC group, processing speed was mediated by frontal and parietal regions, as well as the cerebellum and thalamus. In the MS group, processing speed was mediated by insula, thalamus and anterior cingulate. It therefore appears that neural networks involved in processing speed differ between MS and HCs, and our findings are similar to what has been reported in aging, where damage to both white and gray matter is linked to processing speed impairments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen