Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: zero-stars
What do you say when I colleague chastises you for stating the fact that MS is potentially a ‘preventable dementia’? This particular colleague was clear that there is no need to draw any parallels between MS and other neurodegenerative diseases because of the negative connations that the term dementia has. I had to remind him that MS ticks all the boxes for being classified as a dementia; i.e. (1) MS is an acquired and not a congenital disorder; (2) MS is a chronic progressive disease; (3) MS impacts on multiple cognitive domains and (4) MS impacts on social and occupational functioning. Have I missed something?
I also had to remind this colleague that almost every neurology or psychiatry textbook included MS on its list of causes of dementia. I am not prepared to peddle alternative facts because pwMS may find it distressing to find out that if MS is left to its own devices it will shred their brains and cause dementia. Please note the rose-tinted-odometer is set to zero for this post.
The small study below reiterates what we already know that both relapsing and progressive patients have cognitive problems that correlate with physical disability. This study also confirms that T1 hypodensities or blackholes on MRI, particular in the thalamus (a deep grey matter structure in the brain) predicts cognition problems. T1 hypodense MS lesions or black holes, or at least a proportion of them, have been shown to be very destructive and include lesions with so-called phase-rims (iron around them) and a subset we call SELs (slowly expanding lesions). Some neuroradiologists often describe an MS brain with a high volume of black holes as being similar to Swiss cheese in reference to Emmental cheese.
Now for the good news is that these studies below are on patients with significant end-organ damage and if we can diagnose and treat MS effectively early on we can prevent or at least delay the end-organ damage and the progressive loss of cognition. This is why we have spent years promoting the concepts of ‘Time-is-Brain’, ‘Treat-2-Target of NEDA’, ‘Rapid escalation’, ‘Flipping-the-Pyramid’, ‘Brain Health’, ‘Beyond-NEDA preventing end-organ damage’, ‘Holistic Management’, ‘Marginal Gains’, etc. Buried in all of these concepts is the use of effective DMTs to prevent end-organ damage and to prevent dementia.
I am very pleased that my pwMS in Australia have taken this one step further and launched their own awareness campaign, albeit sponsored by Biogen, to raise awareness about early effective treatment (www.msmotion.com.au). The campaign is been run by a group of MS social media influencers. I met them all virtually last year and spoke to them about the concepts that underpin our ‘Brain Health: Time Matters’ policy document. It would be great if pwMS across the world could do a similar thing.
Do you agree with my colleague above that we should try and protect pwMS from the harsh realities of MS and what can happen to their brains if we don’t manage their MS appropriately? Or should we peddle false facts and a rose-tinted view of the world?
de Paula Gois et al. Associations between cognitive and clinical disability across MS subtypes: The role of the underlying brain damage. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2020 Dec 19;48:102701.
Background: Cognitive impairment (CI) is present in all stages and subtypes of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the majority of studies examined relapsing-remitting (RRMS) patients, and did not address cognitive phenotyping. Is still not clear whether patients with progressive MS (PMS) have a distinct pattern of CI compared to RRMS. In addition, there is conflicting data regarding the correlation between clinical and cognitive disability.
Objective: To investigate the differences of CI between PMS and RRMS patients, evaluating cognitive phenotypes. We also aimed to analyze the association between physical and cognitive disability with MRI measures of grey-matter atrophy and lesion burden.
Methods: Thirty patients with PMS and twenty-four with RRMS underwent neurological, neuropsychological (BRB-N, Boston Naming, and Tower of London), and MRI assessments (3T). Brain volume evaluations were performed using FreeSurfer. Principal Components Analysis on neuropsychological yielded six principal cognitive domains. Cognitive deficits were classified according to three categories: no CI, impairment in isolated cognitive domain, or impairment in combined domains.
Results: In the overall sample, the most frequently impaired cognitive domains were information processing speed (IPS) and visual memory. PMS patients had a higher prevalence of verbal memory and verbal fluency deficits, and more frequent impairment in combined cognitive domains compared to RRMS individuals. After multivariable regression analysis with clinical variables, EDSS was associated with most cognitive domains. Nevertheless, after including T1-lesion volume in the model, it was the most consistent predictor of cognitive performance. To further analyze the interaction between EDSS and T1-lesions, we performed GLM analysis with EDSS and T1-hypointense lesion volume as covariates, and T1-lesion volume adjusted better the model for verbal memory (p = 0.013), IPS (p = 0.021) and total number of impaired cognitive domains (p = 0.021).
Conclusions: RRMS and PMS patients tend to have a similar neuropsychological profile in general, but the extent of CI was greater in PMS patients. Worse cognitive performance was associated with increased physical disability, but this correlation was no longer significant after controlling for T1-lesion volume, suggesting that the underlying MS pathology might be involved in this relationship. Thalamic and T1-lesion volumes were the most consistent MRI predictors associated with cognitive disability.