Basal ganglia, thalamus and neocortical atrophy predicting slowed cognitive processing in multiple sclerosis

J Neurol. 2012 Jan;259(1):139-46. doi: 10.1007/s00415-011-6147-1. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Information-processing speed (IPS) slowing is a primary cognitive deficit in multiple sclerosis (MS). Basal ganglia, thalamus and neocortex are thought to have a key role for efficient information-processing, yet the specific relative contribution of these structures for MS-related IPS impairment is poorly understood. To determine if basal ganglia and thalamus atrophy independently contribute to visual and auditory IPS impairment in MS, after controlling for the influence of neocortical volume, we enrolled 86 consecutive MS patients and 25 normal controls undergoing 3T brain MRI and neuropsychological testing. Using Sienax and FIRST software, neocortical and deep gray matter (DGM) volumes were calculated. Neuropsychological testing contributed measures of auditory and visual IPS using the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT) and the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), respectively. MS patients exhibited significantly slower IPS relative to controls and showed reduction in neocortex, caudate, putamen, globus pallidus, thalamus and nucleus accumbens volume. SDMT and PASAT were significantly correlated with all DGM regions. These effects were mitigated by controlling for the effects of neocortical volume, but all DGM volumes remained significantly correlated with SDMT, putamen (r = 0.409, p < 0.001) and thalamus (r = 0.362, p < 0.001) having the strongest effects, whereas for PASAT, the correlation was significant for putamen (r = 0.313, p < 0.01) but not for thalamus. We confirm the significant role of thalamus atrophy in MS-related IPS slowing and find that putamen atrophy is also a significant contributor to this disorder. These DGM structures have independent, significant roles, after controlling for the influence of neocortex atrophy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Atrophy
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology*
  • Neocortex / pathology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Thalamus / pathology*