An international team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy have found that differences in some of the brain’s physical characteristics and in how individuals utilize the brain each can protect against cognitive decline in multiple sclerosis.
The research effort sought to discover why some individuals with MS experience significant cognitive decline while others may experience considerable disease progression without cognitive decline.
The study looked at what is termed “brain reserve” — usually defined as maximum brain volume and number of neurons, both primarily inherited characteristics. Cognitive reserve, on the other hand, is sometimes thought of as the “software” to the physical brain’s “hardware,” and has to do with optimally putting the brain’s resources to work through life experiences such as education and challenging work and leisure.
“Our research interests focus on why many people with MS suffer cognitive impairment, while others with MS withstand considerable disease progression without cognitive decline,” said study co-author John DeLuca, Ph.D.
“With our colleagues in Milan, we explore factors associated with lack of cognitive decline despite marked changes on imaging studies.”
In this study, 62 patients with MS (41 relapsing-remitting MS, 21 secondary progressive MS) had MRIs to estimate brain reserve and disease burden. Early-life cognitive leisure was measured as a source of cognitive reserve.
Cognitive status was measured with tasks of cognitive efficiency and memory.
James Sumowski, Ph.D., principal author on the study, said, “We demonstrated for the first time that larger maximal lifetime brain growth (which is heritable) and early life mental stimulation (e.g., reading, games, hobbies) independently and differentially protect against cognitive decline in MS.
“That is, genetics and life experience independently protect against cognitive decline in persons with MS.”
The finding that intellectual enrichment conveys a protective effect in MS has been suggested in early research.
The research is published in the journal Neurology.
Source: Kessler Foundation