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Volumetric and diffusion MRI abnormalities associated with dysarthria in multiple sclerosis

Publication year 2024
Published in Brain communications
Authors Katherine H Kenyon, Myrte Strik, Gustavo Noffs, Angela Morgan, Scott Kolbe, Ian H Harding, Adam P Vogel, Frederique M C Boonstra, Anneke van der Walt

Up to half of all people with multiple sclerosis experience communication difficulties due to dysarthria, a disorder that impacts the motor aspects of speech production. Dysarthria in multiple sclerosis is linked to cerebellar dysfunction, disease severity and lesion load, but the neuroanatomical substrates of these symptoms remain unclear. In this study, 52 participants with multiple sclerosis and 14 age- and sex-matched healthy controls underwent structural and diffusion MRI, clinical assessment of disease severity and cerebellar dysfunction and a battery of motor speech tasks. Assessments of regional brain volume and white matter integrity, and their relationships with clinical and speech measures, were undertaken. White matter tracts of interest included the interhemispheric sensorimotor tract, cerebello-thalamo-cortical tract and arcuate fasciculus, based on their roles in motor and speech behaviours. Volumetric analyses were targeted to Broca's area, Wernicke's area, the corpus callosum, thalamus and cerebellum. Our results indicated that multiple sclerosis participants scored worse on all motor speech tasks. Fixel-based diffusion MRI analyses showed significant evidence of white matter tract atrophy in each tract of interest. Correlational analyses further indicated that higher speech naturalness-a perceptual measure of dysarthria-and lower reading rate were associated with axonal damage in the interhemispheric sensorimotor tract and left arcuate fasciculus in people with multiple sclerosis. Axonal damage in all tracts of interest also correlated with clinical scales sensitive to cerebellar dysfunction. Participants with multiple sclerosis had lower volumes of the thalamus and corpus callosum compared with controls, although no brain volumetrics correlated with measures of dysarthria. These findings indicate that axonal damage, particularly when measured using diffusion metrics, underpin dysarthria in multiple sclerosis.

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