Understanding the brain changes underlying cognitive dysfunction is a key priority in multiple sclerosis to improve monitoring and treatment of this debilitating symptom. Functional connectivity network changes are associated with cognitive dysfunction, but it is less well understood how changes in normal appearing white matter relate to cognitive symptoms. If white matter tracts have network structure it would be expected that tracts within a network share susceptibility to MS pathology. In the present study, we used a tractometry approach to explore patterns of variance in white matter metrics across white matter (WM) tracts, and assessed how such patterns relate to neuropsychological test performance across cognitive domains. A sample of 102 relapsing-remitting MS patients and 27 healthy controls underwent MRI and neuropsychological testing. Tractography was performed on diffusion MRI data to extract 40 WM tracts and microstructural measures were extracted from each tract. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to decompose metrics from all tracts to assess the presence of any co-variance structure among the tracts. Similarly, PCA was applied to cognitive test scores to identify the main cognitive domains. Finally, we assessed the ability of tract co-variance patterns to predict test performance across cognitive domains. We found that a single co-variance pattern which captured microstructure across all tracts explained the most variance (65% variance explained) and that there was little evidence for separate, smaller network patterns of pathology. Variance in this pattern was explained by effects related to lesions, but one main co-variance pattern persisted after this effect was regressed out. This main WM tract co-variance pattern contributed to explaining a modest degree of variance in one of our four cognitive domains in MS. These findings highlight the need to investigate the relationship between the normal appearing white matter and cognitive impairment further and on a more granular level, to improve the understanding of the network structure of the brain in MS.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 22 Mar 2022|