(RxWiki News) One of multiple sclerosis' hallmarks are lesions in the brain. They're blamed for causing chronic and worsening disability. But a new finding suggests that's not the full picture.
Scientists have discovered that an area of the brain related to cognitive, sensory, and motor functioning is affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) as well. This region of the brain is called the thalamus.
This finding could help explain declines in brain function.
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The study was led by Dr. Khader M. Hasan of the University of Texas Health Science Center Medical School. His team chose to investigate the thalamus' role in multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis patients often have cognitive deficits such as short-term memory loss, having a hard time thinking of words, and difficulty planning future events.
These cognitive deficits are the reason why Dr. Hasan and his team decided to look at the thalamus. The thalamus is located near the middle of the brain, and is located near the cerebral cortex and the midbrain.
It communicates sensation, spacial sense, and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, which plays a key role in memory, attention, and language, among other functions.
People who study multiple sclerosis pay attention to brain lesions – caused by neurological attacks – and brain volume loss. The thalamus isn't affected by brain lesions, but researchers wanted to see if it experienced volume loss.
They knew that as people age, the thalamus shrinks in size. They thought that may be what happens in people with multiple sclerosis, explaining how the cognitive symptoms are similar to dementia.
The researchers used powerful imaging technology to compare the brains of 109 patients with the disease to 255 healthy subjects. They found that the patients with multiple sclerosis had less volume in the thalamus than people who do not have the disease.
They also discovered that the amount of volume lost was related to how severe the patient's disability was.
The study authors believe that that doctors will be able to detect the disease in people who are not yet showing brain lesions.
The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience in December 2011.