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Neural correlates of fatigue in multiple sclerosis: a combined neurophysiological and neuroimaging approach (R1)

M. Russo, A. Calamuneri, A. Cacciola, L. Bonanno, A. Naro, V. Dattola, E. Sessa, M. Buccafusca, D. Milardi, P. Bramanti, R. S. Calabrò, A. Quartarone


The present study is aimed at further exploring structural and functional correlates of fatigue in Relapsing- Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) patients by using a combined approach by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and a Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). The physiopathology of fatigue in MS is still poorly understood, although a variety of pathogenic mechanisms has been proposed. Our working hypothesis is that diffuse microstructural white matter damage may subtend the cortico-subcortical functional disconnection described in patients with MS and fatigue. We enrolled 30 RRMS patients (mean age 39±13; age range 24-63 years) with mild neurological impairment Expanded Disability Status Scale <3.5, divided into two groups on the basis of their fatigue severity scale (FSS) scoring (cutoff ≥ 4). All the patients underwent a neurological evaluation, a brain MRI acquisition (including DTI study) and a neurophysiological assessment by means of TMS in a pre-movement facilitation paradigm. Our data showed a significant mean diffusivity (MD) increase (p=0.036) in left thalamo-frontal reconstructions in the MS patients with fatigue compared to those classified as non-fatigued. Moreover, significant correlations were observed between FSS scale and MD as well as planar coefficient (CP) values extracted from frontal-thalamic connections bilaterally. Instead, the pre-movement facilitation showed a significant difference between the groups with particular regard to the Reaction Time- MEP50ms amplitude (p=0.03). Our work confirms that fatigue is associated with a disruption of brain networks involved in motor preparation processes, depending on several frontal-thalamic pathways. Such findings can have an important role when dealing with fatigue management in MS patients and could be eventually used as prognostic marker of MS course.


Multiple Sclerosis; Fatigue; Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation; Diffusion Tensor Imaging.

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