Association Between White Matter Microstructure and Verbal Fluency in Patients With Multiple Sclerosis

Front Psychol. 2019 Jul 18;10:1607. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01607. eCollection 2019.


Verbal fluency refers to the ability to generate words quickly and efficiently according to predefined phonological or semantic criteria. Deficits in verbal fluency limit patients' ability to communicate effectively and to function well in social setups. Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients suffer from various cognitive impairments, and some of them experience language deficits as well. The goal of this study is to examine the contribution of the dorsal and ventral language pathways to verbal fluency in MS patients. All patients (N = 33) underwent diffusion MRI (dMRI) and fluency measurements. Diffusion parameters were calculated along dorsal and ventral language-related pathways and their right-hemispheric homologs, identified individually in each patient. Significant correlations were found between fluency measures and mean fractional anisotropy (FA) in several pathways, including the left fronto-temporal arcuate fasciculus (AFft), bilateral inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF), and bilateral frontal aslant tract. Along-tract correlations revealed a more selective pattern of associations: letter-based fluency was associated with FA in a segment of the left AFft (dorsal pathway), while category-based fluency was associated with FA in a segment of the right IFOF (ventral pathway). The observed pattern of associations, mapping letter-based fluency to the dorsal stream and category-based fluency to the ventral stream, fits well within the dual stream framework of language processing. Further studies will be necessary to assess whether these associations generalize to the typical adult population or whether they are tied to the clinical state.

Keywords: category-based fluency; diffusion MRI; language pathways; letter-based fluency; multiple sclerosis; tractography.