Background: The pathology of multiple sclerosis (MS) consists of demyelination and neuronal injury, which occur early in the disease; yet, remission phases indicate repair. Whether and how the central nervous system (CNS) maintains homeostasis to counteract clinical impairment is not known.
Objective: We analyse the structural connectivity of white matter (WM) and grey matter (GM) networks to understand the absence of clinical decline as the disease progresses.
Methods: A total of 138 relapsing-remitting MS patients (classified into six groups by disease duration) and 32 healthy controls were investigated using 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Networks were analysed using graph theoretical approaches based on connectivity patterns derived from diffusion-tensor imaging with probabilistic tractography for WM and voxel-based morphometry and regional-volume-correlation matrix for GM.
Results: In the first year after disease onset, WM networks evolved to a structure of increased modularity, strengthened local connectivity and increased local clustering while no clinical decline occurred. GM networks showed a similar dynamic of increasing modularity. This modified connectivity pattern mainly involved the cerebellum, cingulum and temporo-parietal regions. Clinical impairment was associated at later disease stages with a divergence of the network patterns.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that network functionality in MS is maintained through structural adaptation towards increased local and modular connectivity, patterns linked to adaptability and homeostasis.
Keywords: Structural network reorganization; adaptation; connectivity; early multiple sclerosis; modularity; network dynamics.