The neurovascular basis of processing speed differences in humans: A model-systems approach using multiple sclerosis

Dinesh K. Sivakolundu, Kathryn L. West, Mark Zuppichini, Monroe P. Turner, Dema Abdelkarim, Yuguang Zhao, Jeffrey S. Spence, Hanzhang Lu, Darin T. Okuda, Bart Rypma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Behavioral studies investigating fundamental cognitive abilities provide evidence that processing speed accounts for large proportions of performance variability between individuals. Processing speed decline is a hallmark feature of the cognitive disruption observed in healthy aging and in demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), neuromyelitis optica, and Wilson's disease. Despite the wealth of evidence suggesting a central role for processing speed in cognitive decline, the neural mechanisms of this fundamental ability remain unknown. Intact neurovascular coupling, acute localized blood flow increases following neural activity, is essential for optimal neural function. We hypothesized that efficient coupling forms the neural basis of processing speed. Because MS features neural-glial-vascular system disruption, we used it as a model to test this hypothesis. To assess the integrity of the coupling system, we measured blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in healthy controls (HCs) and MS patients using a 3T MRI scanner while they viewed radial checkerboards that flickered periodically at 8 ​Hz. To assess processing speed and cognitive function, we administered a battery of neuropsychological tests. While MS patients exhibited reduced ΔBOLD with reductions in processing speed, no such relationships were observed in HCs. To further investigate the mechanisms that underlie ΔBOLD-processing speed relationships, we assessed the physiologic components that constitute ΔBOLD signal (i.e., cerebral blood flow, ΔCBF; cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen, ΔCMRO2; neurovascular coupling ratio) in speed-preserved and -impaired MS patients. While ΔCBF and ΔCMRO2 showed no group-differences, the neurovascular coupling ratio was significantly reduced in speed-impaired MS patients compared to speed-preserved MS patients. Together, these results suggest that neurovascular uncoupling might underlie cognitive slowing in MS and might be the central pathogenic mechanism governing processing speed decline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116812
StatePublished - Jul 15 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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