Functional magnetic resonance imaging response to increased verbal working memory demands among patients with multiple sclerosis



Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients frequently experience impaired verbal working memory (VWM). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) may help identify neural mechanisms underlying these deficits. Neuroimaging studies of healthy adults have characterized responses associated with increased VWM demands during the n-Back task, suggesting that this experimental paradigm could help identify neural correlates of VWM deficits among MS patients. Fifteen MS patients and 15 matched control participants completed the n-Back during whole-brain fMRI. Mean signal during adjacent 0-Back blocks was subtracted, on a voxel-wise basis, from mean signal observed during n-Back blocks. Resulting difference scores for 1-, 2-, and 3-Back were compared across groups and difficulty levels. Signal intensity was positively related to difficulty level in anterior regions, including premotor, supplementary motor, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices. MS patients exhibited significantly greater intensity in these areas compared to controls during the 1-Back, while portions of the left superior frontal gyrus, cingulate, and parahippocampal gyri were relatively less intense at more difficult levels. MS group responses were slower during the 1-Back and tended to be slower during the 3-Back; however, accuracy did not differ at any level. Lesion load was positively related to only 1-Back activity and unrelated to any performance measure. Results suggest that compensatory activity occurs among MS patients matched on performance accuracy. Furthermore, compensatory activity occurs predominantly in regions associated with VWM, and this may decline relative to controls as task demands increase. These findings may help to explain why MS patient performance decreases as a function of effort on neuropsychological tests. Hum Brain Mapp, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.