Functional reorganization during cognitive function tasks in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Jürgen Keller, Sarah Böhm, Helena E A Aho-Özhan, Markus Loose, Martin Gorges, Jan Kassubek, Ingo Uttner, Sharon Abrahams, Albert C Ludolph, Dorothée Lulé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Cognitive deficits, especially in the domains of social cognition and executive function including verbal fluency, are common in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients. There is yet sparse understanding of pathogenesis of the underlying, possibly adaptive, cortical patterns. To address this issue, 65 patients with ALS and 33 age-, gender- and education-matched healthy controls were tested on cognitive and behavioral deficits with the Edinburgh Cognitive and Behavioural ALS Screen (ECAS). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), cortical activity during social cognition and executive function tasks (theory of mind, verbal fluency, alternation) adapted from the ECAS was determined in a 3 Tesla scanner. Compared to healthy controls, ALS patients performed worse in the ECAS overall (p < 0.001) and in all of its subdomains (p < 0.02), except memory. Imaging revealed altered cortical activation during all tasks, with patients consistently showing a hyperactivation in relevant brain areas compared to healthy controls. Additionally, cognitively high performing ALS patients consistently exhibited more activation in frontal brain areas than low performing patients and behaviorally unimpaired patients presented with more neuronal activity in orbitofrontal areas than behaviorally impaired patients. In conclusion, hyperactivation in fMRI cognitive tasks seems to represent an early adaptive process to overcome neuronal cell loss in relevant brain areas. The hereby presented cortical pattern change might suggest that, once this loss passes a critical threshold and no cortical buffering is possible, clinical representation of cognitive and behavioral impairment evolves. Future studies might shed light on the pattern of cortical pattern change in the course of ALS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)771-784
JournalBrain imaging and behavior
Issue number3
Early online date9 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • amyotrophiclateral sclerosis
  • fMRI
  • cognition
  • executive function
  • motor neuron disease


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