An international team of multiple sclerosis researchers showed
that longitudinal changes in social cognition are associated with
psychological outcomes of daily living, suggesting that social cognition
may exert a central role in people with multiple sclerosis. The article, "Social
Cognition in Multiple Sclerosis: A 3-Year Follow-Up MRI and Behavioral
Study" was published on March 9,
2021, in Diagnostics. It is available open access at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8001246/.
The authors are Helen M Genova PhD, of Kessler Foundation's Center
for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, and Stefano Ziccardi
PhD, Marco Pitteri PhD, and Massimiliano Calabrese MD, of the
University of Verona. Dr. Genova also has an academic appointment at
Some recent multiple sclerosis research, including work led by Dr. Genova, has shown
that social cognition deficits may affect people with multiple sclerosis who otherwise
have no other cognitive impairments. Social cognition, which is required
to understand and process the emotions of others, is an extremely
important skill set for forming successful relationships with others,
and deficits in this area can significantly affect a person's quality of
Previous studies investigating the prevalence of social cognition
impairment among people with multiple sclerosis suggested that impairment tracked with
symptoms such as cognitive fatigue. More research was needed to clarify
these results and determine whether changes to the area of the brain
called the amygdala--known to be associated with emotions--correlated
with social cognition. Moreover, no study had investigated the social
cognition performance in people with multiple sclerosis with a longitudinal perspective,
meaning that no data existed on the evolution of social cognition
deficits over time.
In this three-year follow-up study, multiple sclerosis researchers conducted a
longitudinal investigation of the evolution of social cognition deficits
and amygdala damage in a group of 26 cognitively-normal people with
relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. They analyzed the association between social
cognition and several domains related to psychological well-being.
Concurrently, they investigated the evolution of amygdala lesion burden
and atrophy and their association with social cognition performance.
To gather data, the team used a battery of neuropsychological tests;
social cognition tasks to assess theory of mind, facial emotion
recognition, and empathy; and 3T-MRI to analyze structural amygdala
damage. They then compared these findings to baseline data collected
from participants three years prior.
The results confirmed that, despite being classified as cognitively
normal, people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis showed a significantly lower
performance in several social cognition domains as compared to a matched
group of healthy controls. These domains include facial emotion
recognition, in particular fear and anger, as well as empathy.
Longitudinal changes in the social cognition domain were also found to
be associated with psychological outcomes of daily living, such as
depression, anxiety, fatigue, and social functioning quality of life.
"We confirmed the longitudinal stability of social cognition
deficits in cognitively-normal people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis,
mirroring the amygdala structural damage and psychological well-being,"
said Dr. Genova. "These results confirm that social cognition exerts a
key role in multiple sclerosis, affecting individuals' everyday lives. Our research
highlights the need to identify treatments to improve social cognition
in this population."
Source: News Release
May 3, 2021