Neuroimage. 2004 Mar;21(3):1147-54
Filippi M, Rocca MA, Mezzapesa DM, Falini A, Colombo B, Scotti G, Comi G.
Neuroimaging Research Unit, Scientific Institute and University Ospedale San Raffaele, 20132 Milan, Italy
Previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of simple motor tasks have shown that in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), there is an increased recruitment of several regions part of a complex sensorimotor network.
These studies have suggested that this might be the case because patients tend to activate, when performing a simple motor task, regions that are usually activated in healthy subjects during the performance of more complex tasks due to the presence of subcortical structural damage.
In this study, we tested this hypothesis by comparing the patterns of cortical activations during the performance of two tasks with different levels of complexity from 16 MS patients and 16 age- and sex-matched controls.
The first task (simple) consisted of flexion-extension of the last four fingers of the right hand, and the second task (complex) consisted of object manipulation.
During the simple task, MS patients had, when compared to controls, more significant activations of the supplementary motor area (SMA), secondary sensorimotor area, posterior lobe of the cerebellum, superior parietal gyrus (SPG), and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG).
These three latter regions are part of a fronto-parietal circuit, whose activation occurs typically in the contralateral hemisphere of healthy subjects during object manipulation, as shown also by the present study.
During the performance of the complex task, MS patients showed an increased bilateral recruitment of several areas of the fronto-parietal circuit associated with object manipulation, as well of several other areas, which were mainly in the frontal lobes.
This study confirms that some of the regions that are activated by MS patients during the performance of simple motor tasks are part of more complex pathways, recruited by healthy subjects when more complex and difficult tasks have to be performed.