Background: Brain functional connectivity (FC) in multiple sclerosis (MS) is abnormal compared to healthy controls (HCs). More longitudinal studies in MS are needed to evaluate whether FC stability is clinically relevant.
Objective: To compare functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)-based FC between MS and HC, and to determine the relationship between longitudinal FC changes and structural brain damage, cognitive performance and physical disability.
Methods: T1-weighted MPRAGE and resting-state fMRI (1.5T) were acquired from 70 relapsing-remitting MS patients and 94 matched HC at baseline (mean months since diagnosis 14.0 ± 11) and from 60 MS patients after 5 years. Independent component analysis and network modelling were used to measure longitudinal FC stability and cross-sectional comparisons with HC. Linear mixed models, adjusted for age and sex, were used to calculate correlations.
Results: At baseline, patients with MS showed FC abnormalities both within networks and in single connections compared to HC. Longitudinal analyses revealed functional stability and no significant relationships with clinical disability, cognitive performance, lesion or brain volume.
Conclusion: FC abnormalities occur already at the first decade of MS, yet we found no relevant clinical correlations for these network deviations. Future large-scale longitudinal fMRI studies across a range of MS subtypes and outcomes are required.
Keywords: Multiple sclerosis; cohort studies; connectome; functional neuroimaging; longitudinal studies; neuroimaging; neuropsychological tests.