Brain Sciences


Disrupted principal network organisation in multiple sclerosis relates to disability

9 March 2020

UCL-led research finds multiple sclerosis patients have different subnetworks in the brain that are attributed to weakened connectivity and that this is linked to the patient’s disability.

images of brains

In the study, published in Scientific Reports, Queen Square Institute of Neurology researchers broke down the “whole brain network” into major subnetworks to reveal potential differences among patients and healthy individuals.

According to the researchers, the brain can be represented by a giant information processing network with its different processing units – known as nodes – connected to each to varying degrees by edges.

Neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) can detrimentally affect these connections. As a result, motor symptoms affecting people with MS usually comprise weakness and stiffness, mainly in their lower limbs, which hinders their ability to walk to varying degrees.

They found that compared to healthy controls, MS patients’ subnetworks did not include deep grey matter areas due to weakening of connections within these regions.

The same group of researchers previously found that brain connections can explain disability better than using more traditional measurements of lesion volume and numbers, the hallmark of MS pathology.

Lead researcher, Dr Ahmed Toosy said: “We showed that these reduced connections were associated with increased motor disability and reduced information processing speed.”

“This highlights the potential utility of subnetwork-based approaches as imaging biomarkers for disease progression and for assessing treatment effects,” he added.

First author, Dr Thalis Charalambous said: “It is very promising to see that we can use a data-driven approach to characterise subnetworks in MS patients. In the future, we aim to assess how these subnetwork alterations change evolve over time to determine whether they change in the same way in all MS patients.”

MS is an inflammatory and neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system. It is the most common cause of neurological disability in young adults and there are 100,000 individuals affected in the UK. Yet its cause and the mechanisms of the underlying long-term disability remain uncertain.