Investigating the underpinnings of cognitive changes

Center for BrainHealth researchers, from the lab of Bart Rypma, PhD and in collaboration with Elliot Frohman, MD, PhD, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program and Clinical Center at UT Southwestern, are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the underlying brain basis for these changes that often create negative effects on daily functioning.

Their findings, published in Neuropsychology in 2015, reveal that decreased connectivity between network-specific brain regions are to blame for slowed cognitive speed, the central deficit common to the various cognitive changes associated with MS.

“Our study is the first to really zero in on the physiology of cognitive speed, the central cognitive deficit in MS,” explained Center for BrainHealth principal investigator Bart Rypma, PhD, who also holds the Meadows Foundation Chair at UT Dallas. “While white matter is essential to efficient network communication, white matter degradation is symptomatic of MS. This study really highlights how tightly coupled connectivity is to performance and illuminates the larger, emerging picture of white matter’s importance in human cognitive performance.”

Rypma and his team are currently conducting research to further explore the physiology of white matter to better understand cognitive speed reductions not only in MS, but also in healthy aging individuals.