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Keywords:

  • Brain atrophy;
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor;
  • cognition;
  • grey matter;
  • neuropsychological performances;
  • relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis;
  • Val66Met polymorphism;
  • white matter

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common, heterogeneous disorder of the central nervous system with a complex trait composed of both genetic and environmental factors. Recently, scientific interest has increased in defining factors that possibly contribute to brain functional plasticity; the results might be useful to assess the relationship between MS lesion burden and clinical events, as well as explaining the well-known phenotypic heterogeneity of the disease. In this study, we explored the effect of the Val66Met brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) functional polymorphism on cognitive performances and volumetric measurements obtained by magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in a selected population of relapsing–remitting MS (RRMS) patients, with relatively short disease duration and minimal clinical disability, compared to gender, age and educational-level matched healthy subjects. We found that in the RRMS group, the BDNF Met-allele was significantly associated with the lower volume of cerebral grey matter (GM) (= 0.005). Furthermore, a significant (= 0.013) interaction effect between ‘MS-status’ and the BDNF genotype was found for GM volumes, with the result that patients carrying the BDNF Met-allele showed a higher risk of developing global GM atrophy than the homozygous Val/Val. No BDNF-related impact on global neuropsychological functions resulted in either RRMS patients or controls. Our data seem to be consistent with the reported influence of BDNF in neuronal plasticity, thus suggesting that the Met-allele might have a negative prognostic effect on cortical morphometry in RRMS patients.