Background: Cognitive deficits including impaired information processing speed as assessed by the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) are common in multiple sclerosis (MS). Oscillatory markers of processing speed may be extracted from magnetoencephalographic (MEG) and electroencephalographic (EEG) resting-state recordings. In this context, an increased proportion of frontal slow-wave (theta, 4-8 Hz) to fast-wave (beta, 13-30 Hz) EEG activity was indicative of impaired SDMT performance. Such an increased theta/beta ratio may reflect oscillatory slowing associated with deficits in attention control. Therapeutic approaches that consider atypical oscillatory activity in MS remain sparse.
Objectives: In a cross-sectional design, we examined the relation between SDMT performance, the EEG theta/beta ratio and its components. We also explored longitudinally, whether EEG neurofeedback could be used to induce a putatively adaptive alteration in these EEG parameters, toward a pattern indicative of improved processing speed.
Methods: N = 58 MS patients (RRMS/SPMS/PPMS N: 18/35/3, 2 cases excluded) participated in a neuropsychological examination and a resting-state EEG recording. Subsequently, N = 10 patients received neurofeedback training for two weeks in a hospitalized setting. The purpose was to reduce the frontal theta/beta ratio through operant conditioning.
Results: In the cross-sectional examination, patients with slow SDMT speed displayed an increased theta/beta ratio, relative to those with normal speed. This involved increased frontal theta power, whereas beta power was equal across groups. The theta/beta ratio remained stable during neurofeedback across sessions of the two-week training period. In an exploratory secondary analysis, within sessions a reduction in the theta/beta ratio during active training blocks relative pre/post session resting-states was observed, driven by reduced theta power.
Conclusions: These findings provide support for utilizing frontal EEG theta activity as an inverse marker of processing speed in MS. Across sessions, there was no support for successful operant conditioning of the theta/beta ratio during the two-week training period. The observed state-specific shift within sessions, involving a transient reduction in theta activity, nevertheless may provide a rationale for a further investigation of neurofeedback as a treatment approach in MS.
Keywords: Attention; Electroencephalogram (EEG); Multiple sclerosis (MS); Neurofeedback; Symbol digit modalities test (SDMT).
Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.