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Fatigue is frequently reported by patients with multiple sclerosis, aquaporin-4-antibody neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder and myelin-oligodendrocyte-glycoprotein antibody disease; thus they could share a similar pathophysiological mechanism. In this cross-sectional cohort study, we assessed the association of fatigue with resting-state functional MRI, diffusion and structural imaging measures across these three disorders. Sixteen patients with multiple sclerosis, 17 with aquaporin-4-antibody neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder and 17 with myelin-oligodendrocyte-glycoprotein antibody disease assessed, outside of relapses, at the Oxford Neuromyelitis Optica Service underwent Modified Fatigue Impact Scale, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and Expanded Disability Status Scale scoring. A 3T brain and spinal cord MRI was used to derive cortical, deep grey and white matter volumetrics, lesions volume, fractional anisotropy, brain functional connectivity metrics, cervical spinal cord cross-sectional area, spinal cord magnetic transfer ratio and average functional connectivity between the ventral and the dorsal horns of the cervical cord. Linear relationships between MRI measures and total-, cognitive- and physical-fatigue scores were assessed. All analyses were adjusted for correlated clinical regressors. No significant differences in baseline clinical characteristics, fatigue, depression and anxiety questionnaires and disability measures were seen across the three diseases, except for older age in patients with aquaporin-4-antibody neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (P = 0.0005). In the total cohort, median total-fatigue score was 35.5 (range 3-72), and 42% of patients were clinically fatigued. A positive correlation existed between the total-fatigue score and functional connectivity of the executive/fronto-temporal network in the in left middle temporal gyrus (P = 0.033) and between the physical-fatigue score and functional connectivity of the sensory-motor network (P = 0.032) in both pre- and post-central gyri. A negative relationship was found between the total-fatigue score and functional connectivity of the salience network (P = 0.023) and of the left fronto-parietal network (P = 0.026) in the right supramarginal gyrus and left superior parietal lobe. No clear relationship between fatigue subscores and the average functional connectivity of the spinal cord was found. Cognitive-fatigue scores were positively associated with white matter lesion volume (P = 0.018) and negatively associated with white matter fractional anisotropy (P = 0.032). Structural, diffusion and functional connectivity alterations were not influenced by the disease group. Functional and structural imaging metrics associated with fatigue relate to brain rather than spinal cord abnormalities. Salience and sensory-motor networks alterations in relation to fatigue might indicate a disconnection between the perception of the interior body state and activity and the actual behavioural responses and performances (reversible or irreversible). Future research should focus on functional rehabilitative strategies.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Commun

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MOG-antibody disease, aquaporin-4 neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders, fatigue, multiple sclerosis, resting-state functional MRI