OBJECTIVE: To characterize functional network changes related to conversion to cognitive impairment in a large sample of MS patients over a period of 5 years.
METHODS: 227 MS patients and 59 healthy controls (HCs) of the Amsterdam MS cohort underwent neuropsychological testing and resting-state fMRI at two time points (time-interval 4.9±0.9 years). At both baseline and follow-up, patients were categorized as cognitively preserved (CP, N=123), mildly impaired (MCI, Z<-1.5 on ≥2 cognitive tests, N=32) or impaired (CI, Z<-2 on ≥2 tests, N=72) and longitudinal conversion between groups was determined. Network function was quantified using eigenvector centrality, a measure of regional network importance, which was computed for individual resting-state networks at both time-points.
RESULTS: Over time, 18.9% of patients converted to a worse phenotype; 22/123 CP patients (17.9%) converted from CP to MCI, 10/123 from CP to CI (8.1%) and 12/32 MCI patients converted to CI (37.5%). At baseline, DMN centrality was higher in CI compared to controls (P=.05). Longitudinally, ventral attention network (VAN) importance increased in CP, driven by stable CP and CP-to-MCI converters (P<.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Of all patients, 19% worsened in their cognitive status over five years. Conversion from intact cognition to impairment is related to an initial disturbed functioning of the VAN, then shifting towards DMN dysfunction in CI. As the VAN normally relays information to the DMN, these results could indicate that in MS, normal processes crucial for maintaining overall network stability are progressively disrupted as patients clinically progress.