Objectives: Gray matter (GM) atrophy is common in multiple sclerosis (MS), as is cognitive dysfunction. Understanding the exact relationship between atrophy and cognition requires further investigation. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between subcortical GM atrophy and cognition in early relapsing onset MS.
Methods: Structural MRI and neuropsychological evaluations were performed in 120 patients (80 women) and 50 controls (30 women), part of an early inception cohort, 6 years postdiagnosis. Deep GM volumes were segmented automatically. Cognition was assessed in 7 domains. Stepwise linear regression was used to predict average cognition in the patient group.
Results: Most deep GM volumes were reduced in patients, with larger effects on average in men (-11%) than in women (-6.3%). Only the bilateral hippocampus, amygdala, and right nucleus accumbens in men, and right hippocampus and nucleus accumbens, bilateral amygdala, and putamen in women, showed no atrophy compared to controls. All cognitive domains except visuospatial memory were affected in men; none were significantly affected in women. In the MS group, average cognition was best predicted by thalamic volume, sex, and education (adjusted R(2) = 0.31), while lesion volume was not a significant predictor in the model.
Conclusions: Six years postdiagnosis, almost all subcortical structures were affected by MS, especially in men. Cognition was most severely affected in male patients. Thalamic volume, sex, and education best predicted average cognition. These results underline the relevance of specific subcortical structures to cognition, as well as the relevance of (sex-specific) atrophy in MS.